Saturday, August 17, 2013

Readjusting

Peace Corps refers to the period after a Volunteer returns to America as their readjustment and places a lot of emphasis on warning returning volunteers that readjusting to life in America can be just as hard as it was initially to adjust to living in their Peace Corps assignment country, sometimes even harder. Their  reasoning for saying that it can be harder to readjust is that when you leave to go to another country you expect things to change. You expect people to be different. You expect the culture to be different. Things might be harder to get used to than you might have imagined but you at least go into the situation expecting it to take time and effort to get used to it. While on the other hand returning back to America is essentially returning home, so you don't have expectations that going home would ever be hard...or that things would really change that much in two years that you would have to readjust to them so for a lot of people returning to America can be a real rude awakening.

For me, my readjustment has been hard to follow because I haven't actually spent much time readjusting. As soon as I got off the plane I feel like I closed the book on Moldova and simply started off where I left off in America...and since I had so many things that I needed to do so urgently like finding a job, a car, and a place to live all before the next school year started in three weeks I felt like my brain went into survival mode and I spent very little time thinking or doing anything that didn't relate to one of those three missions.

I guess my tunnel vision must have paid off because at this moment I was successful on all three fronts. I was able to get two interviews my first week and while I didn't get the first job I did get the second. I spent hours upon hours staring at classifieds, craiglist, and a whole host of other sites looking for a good used car and ended up purchasing the second car I looked at...(I actually went from seeing the car for the first time to leaving the DMV with tags and insurance in less than three hours). And finally I did the same amount of scouting online for a place to live as I did for my car and was successful getting my name on the list for the second place I called. (In case you haven't noticed good things seem to come to me in two's for some reason, I should go purchase two lottery tickets, the second one is bound to be a winner).

One of the few things I have been able to process and learn to appreciate since I have been home is life in a small town. (I should probably note first, however, that what I am calling a small town is really a small city with a population upwards of 17,000 people.)

When I went to my first interview it was very far away from where I grew up and I had never actually visited the town before I went to go for the interview. When I went for my second interview the middle school I went to was actually the same middle school I had attended 11 years ago and where I did my student teaching two years ago. The principal who was principal when I was a student was the one who conducted the interview and to top it all off when I was on my way to the office standing in the doorway was my middle school guidance counselor, who also happened to have been my high school guidance counselor, and who had moved back to the middle school in time for me to work with her when I had student taught there. I ended up getting a position that wasn't what I initially wanted but one that I was happy to have.

Not too long after getting the confirmation that I would have the position my search for a car became frantic as I would need one in less than a week to start attending new teacher seminars and preparing for the first week of school. The first car I looked at was higher on my price range than I really wanted and the engine light came on when I went for my test drive...so that was a no. The second car was exactly what I had been looking for and I came to find out that the woman I bought it from had a sister who had just gotten a position teaching 8th grade history at the same middle school I was hired at. Her sister ended up giving me my spare key at school and I gave her a pair of sunglasses her sister had left in the car. To make everything even more eerily coincidental a teacher ended up retiring four days from the start of school who had been the other 8th grade history teacher (who happened to be my 8th grade history teacher) and I was asked if I would like to take the position. So funny enough when I tell my students that I remember sitting where they are sitting 11 years ago it will be truer than they realize since one of them will be sitting in the same desk, in the same classroom, at the same school.

As far as readjustment goes I have a feeling that I will start to really take notice of things as everything starts to return to a routine. Right now I have been on the move so much I have barely had time to think about Moldova and the things I left behind. Today was really the first time I really thought about Moldova and that was because I was lucky enough to be able to Skype with my host mother now that the new health volunteer has officially moved into my old house in the village I lived in. Thankfully I have not forgotten Romanian yet but I can't imagine that I would stay fluent with it if I don't find someone to speak to more often. As they say if you don't use it you lose it and I have hardly uttered more than three words in Romanian since I returned to America and other than Skype I don't see when I would ever use it.

Another thing that has increasingly worried me is just how easy it is to go about my life without ever thinking about or reflecting upon my service in Moldova. For me, the two years of my life I spent in Moldova have changed me more than anything else has ever changed me but I don't feel that I really have an outlet to express that or share those experiences and I really don't think anyone that I will meet in America will ever truly understand it either. And the instinct for me, especially while I'm hectically trying to pull everything together, is to just push it out of my mind and live in the moment...and the sad thing is just how easy that has been for me to do.

That is why I am so glad I have taken the time to put down my experiences into words as I have done these past three years. I have never been a writer and I can't say that I think anyone reading this would ever find it enjoyable but as selfish as it is I really never intended to write this for anyone else. I wrote it for me, and I'm glad I did. There were many times where I had to force myself to write something, especially when it seemed like nothing worth writing about had happened but I did it anyway, and I know that I will only be more appreciative of all the effort as I get older and I really do start to have trouble remembering things. Who knows maybe there is someone out there who really does appreciate this as much as I do.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Adventure Ends

After being away from America for more than two years and after having traveled through 8 other countries during that time I have finally arrived back in the United States of America. Interestingly because I visited my friend in Japan on the way home I ended up going back the other way around which means that I have officially circumvented the globe...and even though I took a two year break in Moldova before continuing my journey I still was able to do it quicker than the Magellan voyage which is said to be the first and took more than three years by boat.

I had a whirlwind schedule of flights to get back traveling from Osaka, Japan to Seoul, South Korea to Guangzhou, China to Los Angeles before finally landing at Dulles airport. Miraculously my luggage made it all the way to Dulles with me and the jet lag from my 13 hour flight from China to LAX didn't leave me as fatigued as I thought it would. However, all of my excitement about returning to America was quickly drained away as LAX turned out to be the worst place in the world in every respect you can think of. The old, dirty, unimpressive airport with impolite, rude, and unhelpful workers really made it hard to appreciate the fact that I had made it back to America. In addition to the fact that the airport was poorly designed and the United Airlines flight I was taking not only required that I check in using a electronic system that takes twice as long to do as it would if it would have been operated by an actual United employee but the airline also required that I pay 25 dollars for me to check a bag which no other airline has ever asked for me to pay for just one checked bag. I couldn't even pay the machine with paper money so I had to leave the line and go to another machine to get a prepaid card and then start over in order to get my baggage checked. The airline also didn't serve any food or drinks other than water which I was aware of ahead of time so I decided to use the money left over on the prepaid card I was required to get in order to buy myself a lunch. In case you were looking to buy food at LAX I would recommend you just don't since a ham and cheese sandwich and an apple juice cost me 17 dollars. Welcome home.

As bitter as I might have been from such an awful homecoming in LA, when I finally did make it to Dulles everything brightened up... well everything but the weather. I met my family and drove myself straight to Ihop which happened to be the last meal I had with my family before I left to go to Moldova so it was fitting that it was my first meal when I came home. Surprisingly not having slept in a bed in over 36 hours and not having driven in over 2 years I made it all the way home without a single incident.

Now that I made it home I don't really know what to do with myself. I have started putting things in motion as far as setting up interviews but until I have a job I don't really know where to begin with the long list of things I have to do. But at least being back in America isn't as disorienting as many people told me it would be, in fact it was almost like Moldova was only a dream since nothing seemed to have changed while I was gone. It's like I only left yesterday or even like I never really left at all. I haven't decided if that is a good thing or a bad thing yet.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Do I have to leave?

Tomorrow is my last day in Japan and we are planning on visiting our third city, Kyoto. Everything has been going perfectly so far. We haven't missed any trains or buses and we have been able to find our way around and buying food without knowing any Japanese has never been a problem...plus the fact that it is all way less expensive than I thought it would be which is always really nice. I made a video of our first day in Japan that I already uploaded and I am working on editing some more that I will post when they are ready. I also uploaded a lot of photos to my facebook that you can view if you click here.

A view of Japan

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Excuse me...How do I find "real" Japan?

My second day in Japan and other then the fact that it is definitely Japan in a lot of ways I am actually confused by how much it isn't like Japan. Or at least the Japan that is seen in media portrayals or on the internet. For instance while Japanese TV may be a little different from American TV it doesn't have any of the ridiculous shows that I have seen on Youtube, at least that I've seen so far. And while there are vending machines everywhere that sell green tea and cold black coffee they don't seem to sell anything unusual like seaweed water or liquid sushi or something like that. Granted I don't understand Japanese so mostly I have to go by what images I can see on the packaging or the occasional English translation so its possible I just don't know enough or seen enough of Japan.

In any case I was able to see a shinto shrine and see some more of the interesting districts of Japan. And I've also done a great job eating only Japanese food...including Japanese drinks...well other than the Wendy's I had for dinner but that was my friends choice instead of mine so I don't think it should count against me. Speaking about food I have to say that the food I have had is super cheap...in fact mostly everything is cheaper than I thought. That's not to say that everything is cheap, there are expensive places available but if you are hungry and want to grab a bowl of rice and chicken from the kitchen down the street it only cost 4 dollars and even after paying for subway rides, train tickets, food, souvenirs, and more drinks than I can count from vending machines I still haven't spent even the 100 dollars I exchanged at the airport when I arrived though I'm now down to my last thousand yen. (The airport exchange was operated by a bank and didn't charge commission so it actually made sense to exchange it there).

Tomorrow we are going to get out of Tokyo for a day trip so maybe I will notice some more of the eccentricities of Japanese culture there.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Start of a New Adventure

I left Moldova yesterday on a noon flight and had short layover in Istanbul before my overnight flight to Tokyo, Japan. It was very awkward for me to lose my ability to speak the language of the country I was in and there were so many times that I was walking through the Istanbul airport and apologized to someone in Romanian or answered no to someone's question in Russian. Just out of reflex and then it was especially weird if that person later found out I was American. I ended up actually sitting next to a Ukrainian man on the plane and we got to chat with each other in a mix of Russian and English. Though even the novelty of that wore off pretty quickly on our ten hour flight. I can't say that it was really that hard to get through though. I didn't get much sleep but I still don't feel that tired. Well no, that's really a lie. I'm exhausted but not sleepy tired just sore muscle carrying bags all day and walking tired.

When I finally did make it to Tokyo I found that the Japanese love their forms as much as Americans do and I had to fill out an entry form, a customs form, even a form to convert money some money to the local currency. I didn't factor all of the forms into my initial travel schedule so I was starting to run a little late meeting my friend at the hotel and I didn't really have a way to contact him since my phone doesn't work at all in Japan and I didn't really like my chances at finding a pay phone in the modern age of cell phones. I needn't have worried though because fate shined down upon me and as I waited for the train to take me to the center of Tokyo a man who had sat nearby to me on the plane approached me and introduced himself as Ion. I'm pretty sure my jaw hit the floor because the name Ion is one of the most popular names in Moldova and come to find out he was actually from Romania and was now living in Japan as a student. We proceeded to spend the next hour on the train talking in Romanian and he was kind enough to let me use his iphone to call my friend and let him know I would be running a little late. To top it all off though my bag handle broke on my bag so it was no longer possible for me to pull it along by it's wheels and since I am carrying my life of two years with me my bags are quite heavy and my new found friend Ion was incredibly helpful taking turns with me pulling his bag and him carrying my bag as we switched from the train to the metro. We had to separate not long after we got on the metro but we have already made plans to catch up with each other tomorrow.

Because of my unique situation of finding someone that spoke Romanian I had a hard time accepting the fact that I was in Japan. Yes there were pagodas dotting the landscape and yes there were rice fields and signs in Japanese but really everything isn't that much different and in a way I guess you could say I was a little disappointed by just how it easy it was to acclimate to Japan. I had thought that of all places japan would be a place that would finally follow through and provide me with a little culture shock but as of yet I'm still feeling pretty at home, even though I wish I knew more Japanese.

Speaking of Japanese. Not being able to understand the symbols not even in the slightest has been a little frustrating but also a bit exciting because when I order food even though I can usually see a picture of the food before I buy it you can never quite tell what you are getting until you get it but the past two meals I have had so far were amazing. All of the people are so incredibly helpful as well. They are very respectful and helpful and are very patient with me even though I have no clue of anything to say in Japanese though they are very appreciative when I try and use any of the three or four words of Japanese I do know.

I didn't have anytime today for any real sightseeing. We simply walked around a nearby district that had lots of shops and high rises and called it an early night. Though tomorrow I anticipate a busy schedule and if I am lucky I will have more Romanian and more delicious food to eat.

You can see my pictures on facebook here.... and also here is a video of some Japanese-y thing.

video



PS My MacBook cord exploded again in a puff of smoke. I smear these things are the biggest fire hazard...Anyway it happened the night before I left Moldova and so I wasn't able to connect to the internet in transit but now that I have arrived in Tokyo the center of all things electronics I was able to repair it...or at least temporarily so that I can keep in contact with everyone, and post updates during my trip.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Never Let Your Guard Down

Today is my last full day in Moldova and I tried to spend it this afternoon taking a very relaxing walk through the city. I took lots of pictures, picked up a few last minute souvenirs and stopped at a park next to the cathedral to drink an ice coffee. I was feeling really great about how the day was going and even though I was so sad to be leaving I also felt like today was the perfect last day. I took a picture of me sitting on the park bench and laid my camera down next to me. I looked away to grab something on the other side of the bench and a man came up behind me and grabbed my camera without me noticing and started to walk away with it. Luckily for me another man came up and told me what he had done. I had to literally chase the man down three city blocks and physically remove the camera from his hands...but I got it back.

After that I wasn't really in the mood for anymore sightseeing, and I've been on edge all day afterward but on a bright note it does make leaving Moldova a little easier and will definitely serve as a lesson for me to be much more attentive to things in the future. Next time I let my guard down I might not be as lucky as I was today.

I catch my flight tomorrow morning to Istanbul for a three hour layover before my ridiculously long overnight flight to Japan.