Thursday, June 28, 2012

PCV Timeline: Application to Close of Service

Application and Waiting Period: February 2009 - May 2010
February 5, 2009 - Begin contacting recommenders, writing essays, and completing forms 
March 28, 2009 - Submit Application (Aspiration Statement/Letters of Recommendation/etc.)
March 29, 2009 - Submit online medical record/Health status review
March 31, 2009 - Submit legal kit/fingerprints
April 2, 2009 - Submit additional skill addenda requested by regional recruiter
April 27, 2009 - Telephone interview 
May 5, 2009 - Nominated for service by regional recruiterFebruary 26, 2010 - Receive Invitation to Peace Corp service in Bulgaria
May 15, 2009 - Receive Medical/Dental kit in the mail
July 28, 2009 - Submit Medical/Dental paperwork
August 12, 2009 - Dental Clearance Received
October 6, 2009 - Medical Hold
November 20, 2009 - Additional Medical Paper work submitted
February 26, 2010 - Receive Volunteer Assignment, Invitation, Welcome Book, and other documents

Training & Service in Bulgaria: May 2010 - May 2012
May 10, 2010 - Orientation in Bulgaria
May 12, 2010 - Begin Pre-Service Training in Kravoder 
July 23, 2010 - Swearing in ceremony - Officially a PCV! 
July 24, 2010 - Arrive at permanent site: Chiprovtsi
September 1-3, 2010  - COD Training in Blagoevgrad
September 8-10, 2010 - Project Design and Management Workshop in Sliven
November 28-30, 2010 - Training in Plovdiv
July 6-8, 2011 - Mid Service Conference in Tryavna
March 27-29, 2012 - Close of Service Conference in Sliven
May 3, 2012 - Close of Service 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


Yavor, the son in law of my host family in Kravoder, met me at the Sofia bus station. Getting my luggage to his car in front was a challenge. Once in the car, he informed me that Gabi and he would be taking me to stay at their friend’s apartment in Sozopol for my remaining days. Awesome surprise! I never had the chance to make the trek across Bulgaria to the Black Sea and regretted leaving without doing so. Going with Gabi and Yavor was way better than I could have hoped to plan on my own. I was grateful for time with them, and time to relax, reflect, and recharge.
Our trip to Sozopol was perfectly timed. The weather was warm enough for the beach, but not too hot. Tourist season doesn’t begin until the end of May, so we had the beaches and restaurants to ourselves. Their friend’s beachfront apartment is very nice and we went out for super fresh seafood at ever meal. It really was the perfect weekend to end my two years in Bulgaria.  
Sozopol is an ancient city located on the southern part of Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast. It has been inhabited since the Bronze Age and has been ruled by Byzantine, Bulgarian, and Ottoman leaders. Greek settlers established the current town in the 7th century BC and many streets still bear Greek names. Ruins of an ancient necropolis are located near the beach and new findings are common. Near our apartment a part of the soft sandstone ledge broke away revealing a skull and ceramic urn from Roman times. The archeologists onsite let us get close and take pictures.
At the end of the trip, it was hard to return to Sofia. My Bulgarian was at its best and I’d had a great time with great people in a beautiful place.

I had a day of logistics, paperwork, and more goodbyes at the Peace Corps office in Sofia. Raf, a fellow PCV and friend, was also in town and walked back to Gabi and Yavor’s with me. Gabi returned from work around 8 pm with a large cardboard box, medical tape, gauze, and plastic (she’s a doctor). We worked to consolidate my checked luggage until after midnight, hauling them down to the vegetable and fruit market nearby to check the weight on their industrial scale. Finally succeeded with two suitcases and one box all exactly packed to weight! (And they all arrived without problems in the US!!) Gabi is a pro at packing. I was super impressed by the handles fashioned out of braided gauze.

Checking three pieces of luggage on an international flight is expensive enough, without her help I probably wouldn’t have managed getting out of a cab, would have had to buy a new suitcase, and I’m sure had to pay overweight fees. The flights were non eventful, I even had a row to myself on the Paris – Atlanta leg. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Saying goodbye to the other volunteers

Friendships in the Peace Corps are different than in those made in other environments. Without easy transportation or geographical proximity and only one or two conferences a year, maintaining relationships is inconvenient. But having friends who understand the ups and downs of life in Bulgaria you’re enduring makes the distances and times unimportant. The intensity of Peace Corps service, when everything is new and foreign and often difficult, builds tight bonds among volunteers. I was especially close with volunteers in my training group. After three months with them in Kravoder, I felt like I’d known them for years.

Training groups, the four or five people volunteers spend their initial three months with, are based on about an hour of demonstrated language potential during the first 72 hours in country. They don’t always get along and some training groups have serious personality conflicts. My group in Kravoder had a lot of strong personalities and it’s share of discord, but I also love them and care about them like family. Would we all have been friends had we been in college together? I don’t know, probably not. But we went through a special period in our lives together and saying goodbye was hard. Way harder than I expected.

Saying goodbye to my Peace Corps friends marked an end to our shared environments and closed the basis of our intensely honest experiences. We’re from different states and are pursuing different paths. I know we’ll remain in touch (thank you facebook), but it will never be the same. This makes me sad. I’ve never grown so close to a group of people so quickly. We’re so different and regularly irritate one another, but it’s like with family, even if they drive you crazy, you still love them. 

Monday, April 30, 2012

Last day

Leaving Chiprovtsi was difficult. The morning of my departure was beautiful. I woke up early and said sent off Palma and Ivan (the seventh grader who won the local spelling) on the early bus to go to Vratsa for the regional bee. Then I walked through town for coffee with Elsa and Stalin before the 10 am bus. The center filling with activity for sabor (town reunion). I returned to my apartment to double-check that nothing was plugged in or turned on (like the refridgerator and boiler), and was met by Jordanka, Ivo, Gogo, and Velin ready to help with my luggage.

I’m not sure how (…carpets, knit socks, national costume…), but despite giving away and discarding most items I arrived with, I’ve accumulated a lot. We carried the bags to Gogo’s car and drove the 100 meters to where the bus usually stops. Dimi and Tsetska  and Jordanka’s family came to say goodbye. My bags were loaded and I departed. There were tears. When the bus drove through Zhelezna, the school director was there to say goodbye and waved. More tears. 

Friday, April 27, 2012

Goodbyes in Zhelezna

The village 1 kilometer from Chiprovtsi, Zhelezna, is where one of my closest friends and the local English teacher, Palma, is from. I spent a lot of time with her and friends in the village. We celebrated holidays (and my 25th birthday!) together, pickled vegetables, and went for hikes and picnics. I can’t count the many days I spent chatting, gossiping, and venting with Palma. Though I probably would have survived, the stressful times in my service were more tolerable and the good times were much richer thanks to Palma and my friends in Zhelezna. With them, I felt I had a break from always being the “American,” and am so grateful for it.

During my last few weeks in Chiprovtsi, I spent several evenings in Zhelezna. 
We played soccer in center and Palma made dinner for a group of us making way better use of the microwave than I ever did. 

I introduced jello shots to the village. This was clearly part of the Peace Corps 2nd goal: increasing the understanding of Americans in the host country. I also brought frozen daquiris. 
No worries, there weren’t any girls gone wild moments; we spent the evening playing games like modified charades and the one where everyone gets a famous name on their forehead and has to ask yes/no questions to guess their person. I was Michael Jackson.

We also had a bonfire to get rid of all my unnecessary Peace Corps files (and law school personal statement drafts!). And I made banitsa in Bulgaria one last time.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Municipality Farewell

My colleagues at the Municipality organized a send off with coffee and sweets. They gave me a hand woven pillow and the Mayor read a letter of appreciation. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Farewell at Petar Parchevich School

The school threw me a goodbye celebration, it was fantastic! The best goodbye gift was the notebook the kids filled with letters and pictures to give to me. Working at the school was one of my favorite parts of Peace Corps service and I will treasure the book and memories with the kids for a long time. 

...with two of the teachers and the director....they provided snacks, I brought Twizzlers and other candies to try.

...after drinks and snacks we played frisbee and drew outside.

Saying goodbye to the school was difficult. Before Bulgaria, I’d never spent time with kids, now I look forward to working with youth. No matter what was going on in my life at the time, it always made me smile when I would go to the school. The kids would see me coming and lean out the window to yell my name. Little things make them happy and their demands are easy to meet. We played games, talked, laughed, and were happy.  Whatever I do next, I will hold on to the good memories I made during dodgeball games, arts and crafts activities, and spending time with them. 

Summer Soup: Kiselina

I think I've already posted a recipe for Tarator, my favorite cold dish for summertime. Recently, I learned a new cold summer soup that is perfect for hot weather.

  Dill (if desired)
  Cucumbers (chopped or grated)

Mix together according to taste. It's a really easy and refreshing dish to bring along on a hike, adding water to it when wanting to eat.

Monday, April 23, 2012


On Monday I hiked up to a waterfall and picnicked with Jordanka and her family. The weather was perfect and it was a beautiful way to spend one of my last days in the community.

GPS Coordinates and elevation if you're in the area and looking for a day hike:

[977 meters]

Спасово Сало (waterfall)
N 43*22'46.9
E 022*48'28.9
[1069 meters]

Ранков Ръд
N 43*22'68.1
E 022*48'75.8

[945 meters]

Ристина Ливада
N 43*22'72.9
E 022*49'05.5
[824 meters]

Friday, April 20, 2012

English Group Goodbyes

Farewell get togethers with the advanced and beginner English groups in Chiprovtsi. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Easter and Goodbyes in Kravoder

According to the Orthodox calendar, Easter fell a week later than celebrated by Catholic and Protestant churches. I celebrated part of the holiday, which lasts from Good Friday to Easter Monday with my host family in Kravoder. While in the village, I visited other host families and said goodbye. It was strange to see some of the kids in the village a foot taller than I remembered…a reminder that TWO YEARS have passed since I arrived in Bulgaria!!! Unbelievable!!

The house smelled amazing. I love the traditional lamb stuffing/casserole served at Easter. I don’t know the ingredients besides liver, rice, onions, and mushrooms, but whatever part of the lamb the reddish salty meat in the stuffing comes from, it is delicious. The dish is one of my favorites in Bulgaria.

Friday, April 13, 2012

I met the Cuban Ambassador in hair and makeup

I received a call last Friday from program staff asking if I would mind participating in an hour-long studio interview with Bulgarian National Television (BNT). BNT was putting together a series of impressions of Bulgaria from the perspective of its foreign residents and wanted to interview a Peace Corps Volunteer. My first reaction was to say no. After spending much of March speaking English with other PCVs, hanging out with Palma at site, and general departure planning anxiety-the thought of thinking critically in Bulgarian scared me. I didn’t want to embarrass Peace Corps or my community. Certainly there are volunteers with better language skills who would be better representatives. I changed my mind over the weekend, deciding it would be a great way to leave my community with a positive impression. And, since I would already be in Sofia for administrative appointments, I wouldn’t be taking additional time away from site. I agreed to the interview, emailed BNT for additional information, and began prepping my answers to the questions they sent me.

The actual interview was nothing like I'd anticipated. I arrived around 4 o’clock, spent an hour in hair and makeup and waiting. Then I joined the host and five other guests on set. For 90 minutes, we watched short clips of foreigners living in Bulgaria, discussing their motivations and offering our impressions. The eclectic group gathered for the interview included the Cuban ambassador to Bulgaria, an American actor living and working in Sofia, and a showman named Kofe Babone who is originally from Ghana, wore a du rag, and sang twice. It was more of a panel discussion than interview and none of the questions I’d prepped came up. But it was still a good experience, my first time doing something of the sort. I’m hoping the sparkly barrette, super tight ponytail, and orange glow face paint appears better on screen. The edited version will air on BNT 1 in a few weeks. 

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Spelling Bee

Thirteen students from 4th to 7th grade participated in Chiprovtsi’s local spelling bee. It went pretty well. I made brownies from a box mix using a cupcake tray (less cleanup, easier transport). Notice the bee and flag designs, creative, right? Good luck to Ivan, the local bee winner! He will compete against other contestants in the regional bee on April 28th. Winners of regional bees will go on to the national competition in Sofia. 

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Close of Service Conference

Though I knew it marked the beginning of the end of my Peace Corps service and would be the last time I would see many of the other volunteers in Bulgaria, I did not expect it to be as much of an emotional upheaval as it was. I was fine for most of it, even the ceremonial stepping out of the circle and hand holding, but when I told the PC administration that I would be leaving Bulgaria early to begin Duke Law School in May, it became real and I completely lost it. I couldn’t stop crying. The group of 80 something PCVs I arrived in Bulgaria with was too big for me to get to know everyone, but the small group of volunteers in my training group and a few others feel like family. In addition to a great host community, the Peace Corps staff and volunteers have been an incredible support network. Saying goodbye to Bulgaria would also mean saying goodbye to them. Though they too will come back to the US over the next few months, we’ll be scattered across the U.S. and I don’t know how the bonds created during the intensity of Peace Corps service and training will translate into our future lives. I know that my service has to eventually come to an end and leaving early makes the most sense for my future plans, but the transition is going to be difficult. I will be losing the title that has been the key feature of my identity for the past two years: Peace Corps Volunteer. 

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Back up jobs

Among the expectations I had coming into Peace Corps service was the one that I would develop various skills that I otherwise wouldn’t have time to practice.  This has been partially true: I can speak Bulgarian, juggle three tennis balls for about 20 seconds without dropping one, and have learned a lot about my strengths and weaknesses. One thing I have not done that I was certain I would is knit. When I departed from the U.S., I expected my bags to return after two years with handmade socks and hats for all my family and friends. As of two weeks ago, I had not knitted anything, but I brought yarn and needles with me on my road trip in Romania, and successfully knitted a scarf/neckwarmer AND a hat. 

Saturday, March 24, 2012


I first visited Romania twelve years ago and spent several months in the country in the early 2000s, mostly in Bucharest. Wow has it changed. The apartment block on Piata Unirii where my father lived for three and a half years, though structurally the same, housed a fancy European bank on the first floor and looked across to a giant mall full of western stores. The sidewalks leading to the Palace of Parliament were free of the haphazardly parked cars I remember and even had a bike lane!

Palace of Parliament, built by Ceacescu in 1984, is the world’s second largest building, after the Pentagon. 1/6 of Bucharest was bulldozed to build the giant structure. Out front was a tethered hot air balloon with a woman wearing a wedding dress. It was part of a promotion-the train of her dress now hold’s the Guiness record for the longest in the world. (Ceacuscu was Romania’s long serving communist dictator 1965-89)

Romania’s Transylvanian mountains were home to many German settlers, aka Saxons. Seven of their walled citadels are still standing. One of these towns, Sighisoara, built in the 12th century over a Roman settlement was home to Vlad Tepes (also known as Vlad the Impaler, inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula novel). Vlad was born in 1431 in a building that now houses a restaurant near the citadel square. Today Sighisoara is a UNESCO heritage site. The 14th century clock tower in the Sighisoara has been continuously working since the Middle Ages.

Regularly inhabited for more than 2,000 years, Sibui, another Saxon town, has a beautiful old town with large squares, cafes, and pastel painted buildings.

Peles Castle (1875), near the town of Sinaia, Translylvania, was built as a summer resident for King Carol I, Romania’s longest serving monarch. During Ceaucescu era, the 160 rooms were used to host visiting leaders, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Muamar Gaddafi, and Yasser Arafat were among the guests.

Bran Castle (Dracula’s Castle for tourists), located near the Saxon city of Brasov, was first mentioned in documents in 1377. Vlad Tepes, who ruled 1456-62, lived at Bran briefly, but is the source of much tourism. The castle was in use until 1957 (current heirs live in Ohio) and has been restored to display historic art and furniture collections for tourists.

In 1623 prisoners housed in Rasnov Fortress were tasked with digging a well for the fort. Upon completion, they would be freed. Digging the 470 foot deep well through solid rock took 17 years. The well enabled the fortress to be entirely self sufficient during attacks and was used for over 220 years. 

Copşa Mică earned its reputation as Romania’s “ugliest town” by ranking among the most polluted places in Europe for much of the 1990s despite closure of the offending factories. A carbon dye factory in operation for 60 years, covered the town and its surroundings with black soot while the smelting factory led to CM recording the highest infant mortality rate in Europe, 1000 times acceptable levels of lead in the air, and two thirds of children exhibiting signs of mental illness, and life expectancy that is still 9 years below the national average.

The Transfagarasan Highway was constructed in four and a half years in the 1970s as a means to transport Romanian soldiers and equipment in case of a Soviet invasion. We followed the road through small mountain villages to reach the “real” castle of Dracula, Poenari.

We were the only visitors to the 13th century Poenari Castle, the out of the way route and 1,462 steps up to the ruins likely dissuading other potential tourists. In front of the castle, two bloodied mannequins, impaled from anus to mouth, demonstrate the favorite torture method of Vlad Tepes, who used the castle during his reign.

Romania has an excellent website with tourism resources: