Wednesday, December 08, 2010

The Final Missive

(From atop of Cambodia's Angkor Temples)

Season's Greeting to all!

Six months have passed since my last update on the blog and I am unsure of where this time has gone. June signaled the beginning of the academic year for all education institutions in the Philippines, thus creating a course load of five classes for myself teamed with various counterparts; the smallest course load I have had the past five years. I taught two teaching methodology classes, two English classes (grammar and literature), and one PE class. When I wasn't preparing my lessons or assessing various assignments, I was involved in teacher trainings throughout the country.

The last six months of my service, I assisted in no less than seven trainings, with only two held at my site. Traveling in the Philippines is exhausting, as you have to catch, planes, boats, pedicabs (motorbikes with side cabs), buses, etc., just to go a few islands to the west. So just as I arrived to the workshop(s) as a resource speaker, or upon my return from the workshop(s), fatigue always seemed to overwhelm me, though the students and teachers warm greetings always turned the languish feelings to attitudes of excitement.

Also, the past year, I had been preparing the Visayas State University women's softball team for the one and annual regional competition that was to be held in late October 2010. The girls worked tediously to become team players and learned not only to manage their time but focus on leadership and skills development. The girls sacrificed much to be a part of a team and were patient with my demands in order to create a disciplined team.

We were able to play a few scrimmages with a few universities in preparation for the regional sports championships, and we were coming off great highs of winning our first game in nearly four years. Our victorious reign was short-lived, as the regional sports championship was cancelled for financial, security, etc. worries (and a bundle of other rumors ). I was devastated for the girls as they had strived so hard to be a competitive team, and yet our chances, as a unit, were taken away. Though tears were shed, soon smiles were had (the Filipino way) and we celebrated what we had accomplished rather than weighing in on what could of happened.

As the first semester came to a close in mid-October, so did my contract and work with the university. Despididas (goodbye parties) were had in the various departments I had assisted, with each despididas having its unforgettable touch. From the university’s administration to the security personnel, I had special moments playing basketball or sharing a merienda (snack break). But most importantly, I had wonderful counterparts in various departments that enabled us to create a two-way cultural avenue in which everyone was learning. Peace Corps work is unsuccessful unless the Peace Corps Volunteer and the assigned counterparts are willing to learn from each other, and in the two tours I participated in, this was done without fear or hesitation from each other.

After warm wishes and "see you laters" from colleagues and family members at VSU, I headed to Manila to close out my four and a half years of Peace Corps work (only a few people ever sign up for two Peace Corps tours like myself) and on November 5th, my service ended. Today, I still don't think it has "sunk" in that I am no longer part of the active Peace Corps community, but too, once you become of member of the Peace Corps, it is hard for you to ever leave this "family".

After meeting up with my Filipino roommate in Cagayan De Oro and venturing to Camiguin (island in the Philippines), I headed to Vietnam and Cambodia for a little over two weeks. I enjoyed my travels to both places, learning about each culture and even more about U.S. history in Vietnam. Each place in Vietnam seemed to sport its own culture and identity, which made Vietnam extremely intriguing. Cambodia, home of the Angkor empire and its array of Wats, fooled my eyes more so than the pyramids of Egypt did. Lastly, the Cambodian people displayed enough smiles and energy that if there were to be a world full of Cambodians, we would have renewable energy from their beaming smiles! :) Their optimism at all ages, despite the suffering and poverty that they witness day-in and day-out, is to be applauded. (Cambodians make roughly $30 a month, per my conversations with folks in Siem Reap).

My travels eventually ended a few days before Thanksgiving, which found me at Epply Airfield in Omaha, Nebraska, USA, in arms of missed family members.

I appreciate the support, letters, packages, and thoughts the past four and a half years of my Peace Corps journey. This has been a shared journey, not a lone journey by myself, and I am deeply thrilled to have been able to communicate or even inculcate you about the Armenian or Filipino cultures. I am also extremely grateful to the Armenians and Filipinos who opened their doors not only to a stranger (me), but opened up their lives and hearts to share with me as well.

As I concluded, I wanted to share with you all some fun and immediate observations in moving back to the U.S.

Here I have written the top five things (tangible) that I have missed from the U.S. (excluding family and friends as they are intangible).

1) Tap Water
2) Real Dairy (skim milk and cheeses)
3) Driving (Not allowed by Peace Corps)
4) Diversity in ethnic foods
5) Seasons of weather

Here are three tangible things that I already miss from Armenia and the Philippines (excluding family and friends as they are intangible).

1) Availability of public transport
2) Every day warm greetings from students and colleagues
3) Fresh fruits and vegetable
4) Discounted Book Stores/Peace Corps Book Exchange

5) Not relying on internet on a day-to-day basis

There's been no doubt that my core, soul, and philosophy of life have changed from living a more simplistic life and learning what really IS important in life: family, friends, and love. Not only that, but my zeal to continue a career in education as well as finding better means to allow all learners to succeed in the classroom, have given me such a desire to pursue a Ph.D in which I can shape my experiences and apply research to make educational settings more conducive for the multicultural classrooms found throughout the world.

Lastly, I hope that my experience has encouraged you to breakout of your daily routine to volunteer and give back to others. And I hope you are doing so, or will do so because your heart demands you too, not because you feel "obligated" to it. Believe me, volunteering and finding the time to do so, is the best thing that could happen to you; you will see a whole new perspective of life, and just maybe, maybe you will learn a little more about your true self.

With this said, I sign off wishing the best to come in 2011. Thank you, all of you, for your support! I can't wait to see you all very soon.



Captions for each pic:

1) Electrical wires in Saigon, Vietnam

2) Catching a waterfall in Banue, Ifugao, Philippines

3) Beach near my home

4) Halong Bay, Vietnam

5) Teachers at my site with me and other Peace Corps Volunteers

6) My adorable goddaugher, Alika

7) Another way to transport a motorbike

8) San Jose, Romblon, Philippines