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CURRENTLY IN: WESTERN HIGHLANDS, GUATEMALA
About ME I Peace Corps GUATEMALA I Foreign Service TIMELINE

Monday, November 10, 2014

MEDICALLY CLEARED! FINAL SUITABILITY REVIEW AWAITS!

Oh my gosh. Finally, I can say that I have be cleared for "worldwide availability."

 

I am so happy that all the blood pressure madness worked itself out (turns out, I do not have high blood pressure at all.) I am also pretty suspicious that my file has been sent to the Final Suitability Review panel, because my previous investigator asked me for more proof of filing taxes while I worked abroad in Japan, as well as my payment histories of my student loans.

Because I had no idea I had to pay taxes while working as a recent college graduate abroad (my bosses told me I didn't need to, since I paid Japanese taxes), I am filing my 2008, 2009, 2010 taxes retroactively. The investigator told me this would be fine, and several folks on the A100 boards have been very helpful in recounting their own experiences of gaining clearances while having file taxes retroactively.

Hopefully this all means that I will soon be placed on the REGISTER! But wait- as a Peace Corps Volunteer my time on the register can be frozen for 24 months, which is the path I am definitely going to take. My 5.47 in Consular is probably not going to get me hired anytime soon, and with me hopefully becoming a PCVL and staying in Guatemala for one more year, I'll have the perfect setup to practice for my upcoming Oral Assessment that is scheduled for Spring 2015.

I just hope that the Final Review Panel deems me worthy! Onward march...

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Dia de los Santos in Guatemala

My site mate snapped this lovely photo of the street that leads up to the cemetery in our town. This past weekend was Dia de Los Santos, where Guatemalans visit cemeteries, grave sites and other areas in order to pay respect to the dead.

A few days before the actual day, my family, my site mate and I visited the house where my host grandmother's mother was born in order to pay respect to and remember her. We ate food, they prayed and my site mate and I drank a shot of guaro (I believe it was from a bottle of Quetzalteca) while everyone watched us try to choke it down, ha.

 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Peace Cops Volunteer Leader

I just received word today that my preliminary interest cover letter to become a PCVL has received no negative feedback, and I have been approved to begin the application to become a PCVL. I am extremely excited and even though I know I am in for some paperwork, I am ready for the bureaucratic challenge!

So...what does the PCVL application process entail? I'm just delving into all this, so I'll let past and current PCVLs worldwide do the writing:

The Extension Decision (A pretty extensive view of what it's like to consider, apply for and work as a PCVL in Moldova - blog posts from 2012)

Brace Yourself (PCVL in Cajamarca, Peru - 2013 blog post)
Life as a PCVL (PCVL in Ecuador - 2013 blog post)
Staying a Third Year (PCVL in Mozambique - 2014 blog post)

When folks heard I was applying to extend as a PCVL, I received a lot of "side eye." Even the Country Director was a little worried if I was making the correct decision because everyone here knows of my Foreign Service aspirations. I was confident in my decision, as I received word from State that they would postpone my time on the hiring register as long as I continued to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer (well, up to 24 months.) Since I won't be placed on the hiring register until later this year or early next year, I knew I'd be fine.

Basically, I knew I was most likely going to extend back in June 2014, but I stayed mum because I hate the Peace Corps gossip mill and I wanted to take some time for myself to consider my options before letting the world know. Turns out, however, even though I only whispered my pondering to two people (my Project Manager and a fellow PCV), word got around anyway - the fellow PCV, feeling the pressure to speculate on who she thought would be extending, divulged my name (gotta give it to her, though - she held out for a while!)

Now comes the application, a hefty document that requests personal information, references, a work plan and 8 small essays. Though mildly surprised by how detailed the process seems (by comparison, we wrote two essays for our Peace Corps application and attended one interview session), I am excited to get started.

I already visited the HCA (Host Country Agency) with which I would like to work next year, and I've set up a time in early December to do some shadowing. If all goes well, they'll write a letter to Peace Corps "requesting" my services, and I'll begin the house hunt.

Where shall I be moving? It's no big secret, but I've got my eye on Solola, the capital city of the department of the same name that houses the beautiful Lake Atitlan. I've spent quite a few vacations and PTAS (paid time away from site) days there and would love to be closer to that spot.

My host family is very sad that I am leaving, but also excited that I will be in Guatemala for one more year. They have plans to visit me in my new home, and of course I will return to see them every chance I have! If there's one thing living in this small town has show me, it's that I really did get the opportunity to make lifelong friends and family. I doubt this will happen in my third year (there may not be enough time for that), but I certainly will use my extended time in this country to strengthen the bonds I have already formed.

Here's to (applying for) a third year!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Yep, I'm Staying.

In Guatemala, that is. I've officially (well, as of October 2014) applied to extend my service as a Peace Corps Volunteer Leader (PCVL.) A PCVL is a third-year Volunteer who spends 50% of her time working closely with Peace Corps Staff, Trainees, Volunteers and Host Country Nationals to further the goals of her specific project. The other 50% of her time is spent working with a Host Country Agency (usually an NGO.)

While gaining the opportunity to serve my project in a larger capacity was the main reason why I decided to extend, one of the cooler aspects about extending is the fact that you are permitted to extend your service outside of your site. While I am certainly saddened by the prospect of leaving behind the members of my host family whom I have come to admire and respect, I am greatly looking forward to living in a larger area in a more accessible region of Guatemala. Having a few creature comforts certainly won't hurt! ;)

So, what does this mean for Foreign Service? Well, nothing, really. I'm still waiting on Medical and Final Suitability Clearances (in fact, my investigator here in Guatemala just contacted me asking for more tax information and proof that I pay my student loans -- should my depressed face and bank statements suffice?), and I did receive confirmation that State will "freeze" my time on the hiring register while I am in Peace Corps, even for this extension.

But, if worse comes to worse and for some reason I am not medically cleared or deemed "suitable", I am still scheduled for another Oral Assessment in 2015. I can use the time in my third year as PCVL to hopefully pass the OA again and work out any medical/suitability kinks that might float my way.

A couple days ago, everyone from Bak'tun 1 (the first group of Volunteers to serve in Guatemala after the absence of volunteers for roughly two years) received our "Close of Service" Conference e-mails, telling us to get prepared for the conference that's supposed to tell us how we're supposed to "end" our service in Guatemala. Even though I know I'm staying, it was quite the shock. That conference takes place in 2 months and we of Bak'tun 1 are pretty astounded at how slow/fast the time has passed.

I am looking forward to the conference, and believe it or not, to the goodbyes that I will inevitably have to say to my friends and colleagues I respect so much. I understand that our time together was only 27 months, and I am happy that my friends have new adventures lined up after Peace Corps. I also know that their time in Peace Corps will always serve them in their future endeavors.

Wow...only 4 more months until COS. Amazing.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Updates from Update Land: Peace Corps, Consular Adjudicator Oral Assessment & Medical Clearances!

Folks have been asking me of late: what the heck is going on with you? No updates? No blog posts? No pics or gifs? Yes, I know -- it's been quite some time since I've written about my life here in Guatemala (or my life at all), right?  




Well, life as I know it has been pretty busy these last few months, especially on the Peace Corps front, where I was lucky enough to apply for and receive a grant to bring 28 folks from around my town to a day-long workshop on small project design & management. I and two other facilitators spent the entire day talking about numbers, resources and different ways to monitor and evaluate small projects. My favorite part, however, was having my group of Youth Health Promoters give a small presentation on HIV/AIDS during lunch. They memorized their information and spoke with confidence and intelligence -- I was so proud of them!
"White Blood Cells", part of the HIV/AIDS Skit

The school break is coming up soon, which means I have TWO MONTHS OF VACATION!!! Just kidding. Peace Corps Volunteers are 24/7 "on duty" which means that even though we are technically not going to be working in our primary project,we should have secondary projects lined up for long breaks. Luckily for me, I've got several projects lined up, which I hope will be fulfilling during my down time and be useful to the community. One is a "vivero" (plant nursery) project I am working on in conjunction with the private schools, the public schools, and a small colony right outside my main center. We're fashioning the vivero out of recycled plastic bottles, and surprisingly, we've collected 4,700 bottles so far! It's amazing! Hopefully we'll begin construction in late October, and have our first "siembra" (planting) mid-November. If you're down, check out our Facebook page we created for the vivero. It's in English and Spanish!

Speaking of Spanish: I FINALLY got an invitation to the Spanish language Consular Adjudicator Oral Assessment: woohoo! Apparently the invitation went straight to my Spam folder, even though I definitely tried to add all of the state.gov addresses to my approved e-mail list. Luckily, they were understanding and I was able to get scheduled for an interview on NOVEMBER 21, 2014. So close to Thanksgiving, but too far away to actually try to make any use of the time (damn you, dwindling vacation days!) Like last year's Foreign Service Officer Oral Assessment, my twin sister is coming down to D.C. We're going to catch up, see some sites and try to make some Tofurkey in an early Thanksgiving-of-sorts. I am so excited to see her and to take a stab at another Oral Assessment. It seems a bit tougher than the FSOA...I hope I'm ready!

In other news, my medical clearances are going well...I think. Remember that little snag about me having high blood pressure? Well, it turns out I don't have high blood pressure and never did have high blood pressure!

Have you ever heard of "White Coat Hypertension?" Well, apparently, there are folks who dislike hospitals and doctors (raises hand), and this causes blood pressure to spike only when said folks have their pressure taken with certain doctors in certain offices. This is essentially what was happening to me. After using a blood pressure holder for 24 hours on two separate occasions and having the results come back clear, my Peace Corps Medical Officer decided to have me test the machine he uses in his office with a separate doctor in Guatemala City. Well, the machine that indicated I had high blood pressure in the Peace Corps office the day before, read that I had normal blood pressure while I was with the doctor in Guatemala City. Thus, the "White Coat Syndrome" diagnosis was given. Hopefully this, and all the readings and tests, will be sufficient enough for State and medical clearances....



And lastly, I got a message a couple days ago alerting me that once I am done with medical, my files will be reviewed for "Final Suitability." Shucks...only 2 years and 3 months since I first sat down in June 2012 to take the test. Next stop is the register and my other FSOA next year to hopefully boost my score!

Let's do this!


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Self Esteem and Guatemala


Every week I work with two groups of 4th, 5th and 6th graders to talk about leadership, self-esteem and health. At the end of 10 weeks, we will do a large school project.

Below are a couple of photos from a session I created on self-esteem. In the beginning of the session, we read a letter from "Paulina", a young girl who lacks confidence in her talents. After I read the letter, each student received an envelope and a piece of paper and wrote a response letter to "Paulina" about something in which they excelled. The point of the session was to help the students talk about their own skills and talents, while learning how to be more empathetic and understanding to those who have skills that differ from their own. 

Most Guatemalan children I have encountered have incredibly low self-esteem, and teachers often point out their flaws instead of reinforcing their strengths. 

Unfortunately, it's not uncommon to hear a teacher call a child "stupid" or ridicule a child for not being able to play a sport. No, I don't think my self-esteem session will do much to change these attitudes, but I hope this one class did help at least some of my students gain a greater appreciation of their own talents...




Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Foreign Service February 2014 QEP Results: Passed to Oral Assessment!


Wow...I feel incredibly lucky and happy to have received another invite to the Foreign Service Oral Assessment. Hopefully I can raise my score to a solid 5.5 and use my language points to garner a high enough spot on the register to be called next year for A-100. Good luck to everyone else waiting for results!






Monday, May 5, 2014

I am in love...

...with my life, right now! 

Since my epic rant post of last year, my life and my outlook on my Service as a Peace Corps Volunteer has vastly improved. At my lowest point, when I would revisit my days and feel like I'd accomplished nothing, I considered Early Termination. 

Then I wrote a letter to my two closest Peace Corps friends (one who medically separated and one current Peace Corps Volunteer in-Country with me) telling them about my misgivings, and I felt a little better, but not by much.

In mid-March, I hosted 3 PCV women for Field-Based Training, and they were able to see me in my element. They told me they were excited to finally meet the "Superstar PCV", which surprised the hell out of me. I learned that during their training, my name came up a great deal, and that my actual calendar and work was used many times as examples of what to do in the course of Service. 

Now, this is not me being falsely humble or fishing for compliments or whatever; but hearing that I was the example actually made me feel worse about my Service, because their thoughts of me (gun-ho Volunteer) did not reflect what I felt internally about myself or the realities of my work life in site.


Then, my sister came to visit. We spent one glorious week heading to my favorite spots in Guatemala, and it served to remind me of the good things I've encountered during the last 15 months here in Guatemala. No, I still don't feel like I'm my most "productive", but what I lack in work happiness is most definitely overshadowed by how integrated I feel in certain places in Guatemala, including my host site and my favorite place in Guatemala. 

I hope to keep working on this side of personal happiness, and that I can end my Service feeling a sense of accomplishment (no matter how small.)

In Foreign Service news, I just received word that my passing Spanish language score from my Consular candidacy will be
applied to my Consular Adjudicator candidacy. I am happy that I don't have to worry about taking the test again (getting to a land-line here takes about 3 hours, LOL.) Now, I will wait for notice of when to schedule my Oral Assessment and hopefully have the chance to schedule both my Consular Adjudicator OA and Foreign Service OA (if I am invited) around the same time.

I am still working on my Blood Pressure, and though my top number complies with what State needs, I still need to work on my lower number, which is about 5 points higher than it needs to be. I go for my med check-up at the end of June, so hopefully is gets better by then! Fingers crossed!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Spanish Language Consular Adjudicator: Next Steps!

I just received this message today in my inbox: "Congratulations!  You have successfully passed the Qualifications Evaluation Panel review of your recent application to become a Foreign Service Consular Adjudicator in a Spanish-speaking country."

SWEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEET.

Well, this new development is pretty great. I am trying to figure out all the details of the language test and Oral Assessment for this position; I already passed the FSI-BEX Spanish language phone test, so hopefully I can go straight to the Oral Assessment. I am pretty excited and so happy that my skills have once again proven sufficient to stay in the Foreign Service game! I have been told several times that this job will not negatively affect my Foreign Service Officer goals...so hopefully I can do this and still be on track to work as a Consular Officer. My perfect scenario would have me passing the Oral Assessment for the CANLA position, receiving a job and beginning sometime in 2015. After my 18-month stint as a CA, I might then be able receive an offer to join an A-100 class for the Foreign Service using my first or second candidacies.

However it works out, it's sure to be very interesting. I cannot wait to see where this all takes me!

If you're interested in learning more about what being a Consular Adjudicator entails, please click the link here.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Twin is Coming

She is coming to Guatemala. It will be awesome. She comes in two days. That is all. :)
(Foreign Service, Peace Corps, Life updates soon.)

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Personal Narratives

Two days ago my sister asked me if I'd submitted my personal narratives. I did, but I forgot to update her. Yes, they're submitted and yes, 4 of the 6 narratives are exactly the same. I changed my communication narrative and made my substantive knowledge more fluid. I passed to the OA with these narratives, so hopefully the stars will align and I will be chosen to attend the OA again.

In Blood Pressure news, I went to the doc two weeks ago and it was down. Not below levels that DOS requires, but pretty darn close! Hopefully I can continue my plan and head on to Medical Clearances!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Medical Clearance

...not so fast. As it turns out, I have elevated blood pressure (what?!) and need to go on a special plan to make sure I can get my levels back down to normal. This was surprising and not-so-surprising to me, just based on how much my diet and level of activity have changed since joining Peace Corps one year ago (several PCVs also told me recently they've received the same diagnostic.) It makes sense, honestly: I've gone from a fairly mobile, pure vegan to someone who now eats meat and all sorts of other goodies this country has to offer -- but I am definitely paying the price for my indulgences, haha :D

I'll keep you all updated on my progress -- I'm currently signed up for a 5K, have made the decision to go back strictly vegan, and am gonna stick to my morning runs with my host cousin. Hopefully in about 3-6 months this all pays off, and I won't have to go on any medications to get it under control.

I never thought medical clearances would hold me back from achieving my long-standing goal, but if there's anything to be said here its that this experience is definitely molding me into a better, stronger...more patient person!

Wish me luck!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

What a day!

Today has been...pretty awesome. Not only did I get paid, but I received a passing score on the FSOT and found out that DOS has granted me TOP SECRET security clearance! What the what?! Friday is certainly going to be a celebration! ;)



Wednesday, February 19, 2014

February 2014 FSOT Results...So Soon?!

The FSOT Results Letter retrieval website is now closed. 
The site will be available again later.  

Monday, February 17, 2014

Peace Corps Mid-Service, Whoa

One year ago, I landed in Guatemala City with 28 Trainees and began the complex, interesting, and challenging transition into life as a Peace Corps Volunteer. The conflicting realities of life and work here have significantly cooled my desire to work professionally in the grassroots development sector, but I would be remiss not to note how thankful I am for the new skills, experiences and friendships I have gained during this time.

In the Peace Corps Unofficial Handbook, there is a chart that explains the so-called 27-month cycle that most Peace Corps Volunteers experience. I think it accurately reflects what I, and many of my peers are going through as we approach our second year in the Corps. 


Month Issues Behavior/Reaction
Intervention





11 - 15

  • Mid-Service Crisis
  • Doubt of Program, Role, Self, Govt
  • Various Failures Over Time Reflection: Disillusionment, Confusion Resolving Frustrations with Victories
  • New Trainees Arrive
  • Holiday Time
  • Impatience with Self and Program System
  • Blame on Program
  • Constant Complaining
  • Lethargy
  • Haughtiness with New Trainees via Super Identification with Image and Dress
  • Holiday Planning/Mini-Vacation
  • Review Work Plan
  • Set New Goals
  • Plan Vacation
  • One Year Anniversary Celebration
  • Develop New Recreation Options
  • Write Long Lost Acquaintances
  • Explore Better Relations with GVO & NGO Folks
  • Return to Language Study and Practice

I can most significantly relate to the third bullet point in the chart, but I'm actively working to make sure I stay on track. Last week saw a lot of cancellations, with my Counterpart putting the icing on the cake by telling me "I sometimes forget to tell the teachers they are required to be at your trainings", but there's no use crying over spilled horchata, right?

It's difficult to express how I feel about my Peace Corps Service thus far, mainly because I cannot muster any strong emotions about my Service (is that a bad sign?), but I raise my glass to the efforts of those in my cohort. Living and working in a new country with new rules and expectations is not as easy as it sounds. 
Kudos!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Taking the FSOT Again

Yes, it begins again. Since I'm still going through hiring clearances and have yet to be placed on the register, I decided to start a second consular candidacy in the hopes I can get a higher Oral Assessment score.

So, I took the FSOT yesterday with a group of fellow PCVs and others living/working in Guatemala. It was really interesting taking the exam at the embassy and getting to see FSOs doing their everyday jobs. The woman working as our proctor and escort was an IT Specialist, and she was so nice! We also made nice with one of the Marines working behind the glass. Hopefully we can hang out sometime.

So...the test. Believe it or not, I believe I failed the essay. I have no idea what happened, but my 5 paragraphs, though complete and with transitions, went around in circles and rambled. I definitely didn't put my best foot forward with the essay, and I think I may be scored with a 4 or a 5. Yikes. Hopefully I'm wrong, but if I have to take the exam again in 2015, that's fine, too!

MC was as it always has been for me: not too hard, not too easy. I finished each section with about 15 minutes to spare and sat during the time, mentally preparing myself for the following section. I know I was completely clueless on some of the Job Knowledge questions, and I might have possibly done the best on the Biographical section (like last time.)

Well, I've got 3-5 weeks to fret over receiving results, and I have my fingers crossed that everyone gets good news in March!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A Congressman and an Officer

Last week three Peace Corps colleagues and I were chosen to have lunch with officials from the embassy and a visiting Congressman. Of course, I was flattered my name came up, but I was also excited to have the opportunity to see real live Foreign Service Officers on the job. The lunch was pretty uneventful, though I did manage to get in a few "keep funding us!" pleas. 

It was mentioned around the table that I was going through my security clearances and that I had just (that morning, actually) found out I'd passed the Spanish language test. The Control officer during the lunch was actually a Consular Officer, and when I told him Consular was my chosen cone, he did a little fist pump in the air. He said he loved his career (in fact, it's the only career he's had) and that he was happy with his profession.

We all got his card, and he told me, "No matter what -- whether you get the letter or whether you're just curious, give me a call and I'll answer your questions." 

It was a very sincere-sounding invitation, and I am happy to have contact with a (Consular) FSO! I am going to the embassy on February 5th to take the FSOT again, so maybe I can arrange a shadowing or visitation around that time (if it's even allowed.)

I know I just got a couple of business cards and a free lunch, but being in the company of folks who work for our nation made me feel like a million bucks ;)

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

February 2014 QEP Results

Results are in! I am crossing my fingers for everyone out there! I know what it's like to get both a passing letter and a letter saying I did not make the cut. My case just goes to show: don't give up if it's bad news! Good luck!