Packing List

They say there is no one uniform Peace Corps Volunteer packing list, and as I sit here and contemplate everything that I stuffed into my hiking backpack, carry-on, and two 50-pound luggages, I still don’t know if I adequately packed for the next 27 months of my life. Did I overdo it? Did I not pack enough? What’s with me on this plane and what’s en route to Zambia is what I’ll have to work with on this new adventure of mine. I’m documenting this packing list not only for inventory purposes, but also for future Peace Corps Volunteers, who may be freaking out right now, preparing for their own adventures. I know that finalizing everything and packing with my mom last night was kind of stressful and gave me so much anxiety that even the shots of Jameson with my best friends could not eliminate entirely. My advice? Make a list. Check it twice. Heck, make that three times. And you know that feeling that you still missed something after all that packing is complete? Yeah, well, it’s not going to go away. All you can do now is trust that you did your best, sit back, and try to enjoy a nap in between a shaking airplane and 5-year old Luke (who wants everyone to know that he is Lava Man, by the way) who is currently creating a new game called “let me see how long I can obnoxiously lift my arm-rest up and down as loud as I can.” Here’s my packing list. Enjoy, boys and girls.

Clothing

  • Short-sleeved T-shirts (6)
  • Long-sleeved T-shirts (3)
  • Polos (3)
  • Oxfords (3)
  • Sweaters (3)
  • Thermals (2)
  • Rain jacket
  • Light sports jacket
  • Underwear (6)
  • Socks (6)
  • Swimming trunks
  • Tank tops (2)
  • Shorts (3)
  • Pants (4)
  • Solid-color tie
  • Beanie
  • Bucket hat
  • Strap sandals (2)
  • Tennis shoes
  • Hiking boots
  • Dress shoes
  • Bandanas (2)
  • Prescription glasses (2)

Goods/Supplies

  • Tent
  • Sleeping bag
  • Bedsheets
  • Blankets
  • Hiking backpack
  • Umbrella
  • Headlamp
  • Sewing kit
  • Duct tape (2)
  • Swiss Army knife
  • Cutting knife
  • Cutting board
  • Chopsticks
  • Waterbottle
  • Towels (2)
  • Hand towels (4)
  • Moth balls
  • Locks (3)
  • Envelopes
  • Money strap/belt
  • Dummy wallet

Electronics

  • Laptop
  • Headphones
  • Camera
  • Memory Card
  • Portable battery pack
  • Electronic universal cords
  • Universal plug adapter
  • Electronic trimmer
  • Alarm clock
  • Fan
  • Batteries (AA & AAA)

Toiletries

  • Toothbrushes
  • Toothpaste
  • Soap
  • Deodorant
  • Q-Tips
  • Razors
  • Hair products
  • Comb

Kitchen

  • Can opener
  • Ziplock bags
  • Spices/garlic salt
  • Beef jerky
  • Coffee
  • Tea
  • Cha bong (Vietnamese dried shredded pork)

Miscellaneous/Other

  • 10 passport photos
  • Family photos
  • US Map
  • World Map
  • Pens
  • Journal
  • Notebook
  • Frisbee
  • Games (cards, Uno, Cards Against Humanity)
  • Books
  • Copy of transcripts
  • Copy of degree
  • ID
  • ATM card
  • Host family gifts

Home

“Home” means different things to different people, and for the past three decades, I’ve had many different homes, all of which have been great and fulfilling in their own unique ways. And the one thing that always remain constant with each of them is how I feel when I’m there: happy, safe, and supported. As I watch this tour of David’s home in Zambia (thank you, David!), I wonder what my new home of 27 months will be like abroad. I’ve never lived anywhere outside of the comforts of the Bay Area, so naturally, I know it will be quite a change for me. Although I energetically welcome the change and everything that will come with it, a part of me can’t help but feel anxious and nervous. Can I actually do this? Will I be happy? And will I feel safe and supported?

The first 3 months in Lusaka, Zambia’s capital, I will be living with my host family, while training and learning about Zambia and the Zambian lifestyle. This will probably serve as a nice cushioned way of introducing myself to living abroad, having my host family present, along with other Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) and locals in Lusaka to interact with. I envision that there will be lots to do during these first 3 months, and because of this, I’ll be busy, taking in everything as it comes, and doing one of the things that I value and love very much in life: learning. I feel that these first 3 months will probably be the most structured time for me serving in Zambia, and that creating a new “home” in this time will be an exciting and natural process. But what will happen when the 3 months are over, and I’m on my own in a remote village in my own thatched-roof hut, similar to David’s? How will I create yet another “home” for myself, by myself, for the 2 years after training? I think this is what I’m most anxious and nervous about. But “Why?,” I asked myself. What are the roots of this anxiousness and nervousness?

After a lot of thinking, I’ve figured out that this anxiousness and nervousness isn’t just from not knowing what my life will be like and how I will be living for 2 years in Zambia, but it also comes from the feeling of not being able to do any of this successfully. I’m committing myself to a very big mission. A very long mission. A very important mission. And what if I can’t do it? What if I fail? Would I be able to look at myself in the mirror and be okay if I do fail?

And then I pictured my father and mother. I recalled their story of struggle to success, 40 years ago, after the Fall of Saigon. A story that has (and will always) inspire me when I need it. How did they get through it? And then it hit me. Life gives us all many chances at bat with many different pitches. The feelings of anxiousness and nervousness, when we’re at bat, are normal; they’re natural. And you swing anyway. You keep swinging. You’ll strike here and there, but you’ll also send some flying out of the park. The process of living in the moment and taking things as they come to you is what defines us as people; it will be what will help us define things in our life, like what a “home” is. And although it will be scary and exciting, I’ll just have to take things as they come and learn how to create this new home for myself in Africa.

I’ve realized that focusing on more specific questions about my new home is a lot more fun and practical than wondering if I’ll be successful on this mission or not. What will my hut look like? How will I decorate my new home? Who will my neighbors be? Will I find a pet to take care of? How far will I have to travel to get water? What new skills will I learn? Can I overcome my fear of getting bitten by a snake/spider/scorpion/other creepy crawler in my pit latrine?

I can’t wait to get answers to these questions as I create my first home outside of the United States.

“Home is where our story begins.”
-Annie Danielson

Countdown

It’s been three months since I accepted the invitation to serve in Zambia, Africa with the United States Peace Corps, and what a roller coaster it’s been since then. Upon accepting an invitation to serve, Peace Corps Volunteers have a huge laundry list of things to get done (and to be cleared) in order to depart for their country of service. And after three months of seemingly endless paperwork, multiple doctor and dentist visits, and a handful of conflicting thoughts and emotions, I’ve finally reached the countdown to Staging, the term used for Peace Corps departures.

I kept a mini-blog on my iPhone to capture highlights these past three months, which I’ve transferred onto this blog below. Even though it was all in all a stressful process, I’m glad that I was able to get everything done in a timely manner and that I’m physically ready to serve in Zambia.

December 29: Accepted invitation to serve in Zambia, Africa!

December 29: Peace Corps Pre-Staging tasks assigned.

January 8: Finished my first Peace Corps Pre-Staging task today. Went to Oakland to the Northern California Peace Corps Office and got my fingerprinting and background check information done and mailed out to Peace Corps Headquarters.

January 13: First visit to Dr. Rubin to start on my medical tasks for the Peace Corps. I can only imagine his face when he sees all this paperwork!

January 13: Um, yeah. 5 different shots/injections and 7 tubes of blood drawn at the Kaiser Laboratory. And it’s still not over. Ow.

January 15: TB Test read. No bump! One more medical task complete.

January 30: Passport and visa applications finally completed (so confusing, btw) and mailed out to Peace Corps Headquarters for processing.

February 2: Test results and lab work came back in the form of a bunch of acronyms and numbers, but as Dr. Rubin summarizes, “Your lab report came back normal. Everything looks good. You can come by to my office tomorrow to pick up the initial paperwork.”

February 3: Picked up the first batch of paperwork from Dr. Rubin’s office today. One step closer in finishing my Medical Applicant Portal (MAP) tasks! About 1/3 completed!

February 3: Started, finished, and passed my first two training modules for the Peace Corps in the online Learning Space.

February 4: Interviewed by Peace Corps West today about what motivated me to apply to join the Peace Corps and about my feelings and thoughts on serving in Zambia in June.

February 13: The dreaded dentist visit is today, as part of my Peace Corps medical/dental clearance. Filling two cavities and yanking a molar out. Here we go!

February 13: Norco is my new best friend.

February 18: Finally finished all Pre-Staging tasks, including all of my medical tasks for the Peace Corps today! Fingers crossed that I’m all in the clear and get final clearance to serve in Zambia!

February 19: Good news! Pre-service Screening Nurse has preliminarily cleared and approved all of my medical tasks. Fingers still crossed!

February 19: Cost shares were mailed out today to the Peace Corps Headquarters. This whole medical/dental clearance process has cost me a total of $985, and I’m hoping to see $120 back in my bank account sooner than later through reimbursement. $120 is better than nothing, and I’m glad I’ll be physically ready for Zambia come June.

February 23: I GOT FINAL MEDICAL CLEARANCE FOR THE PEACE CORPS!!!

March 9: Remember that interview? Well, it was published. In a press release. Today. Yeah.

March 27: Guess who’s Peace Corps cost shares came in today? Yay!

March 29: Moved back home to San Jose today to spend my last two months in the states with the fam bam. It feels good to be home.

My Staging date is June 8, 2015, exactly 10 weeks from today. One of the things that is making me super anxious is that packing list that I’ll soon have to face. For those who don’t know me well, I don’t really shop much or have experience in shopping for trips, so doing so and packing for a 27 month mission to Africa is an extremely daunting (and scary) task to me. Good thing I have two best friends who are pros at it and can help me.

The next 10 weeks will be the beginning of the biggest transition and change in my life to date. The hardest hitting of this transition and change will meet me in the form of a new culture and lifestyle in Zambia, but for now, focusing on a smaller transition and change with my new commute from San Jose to San Francisco will keep me busy and sane, providing me with plenty of time to contemplate, plan, and prepare for Staging come June.

Let the countdown begin!

“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
-Dylan Thomas

Aspiration Statement

1. Three professional attributes that you plan to use during your Peace Corps service and how these will help you fulfill your aspirations and commitment to service.

In working with diverse populations, I have learned the value of being patient and flexible in the work field. The work that we do in the non-profit world can seem, at times, too big or too difficult to finish, but with the right mindset, I’ve learned that by being patient and learning how to be flexible and adapt to unforeseen situations, tasks can be accomplished and goals can be reached if you give it time. I know that the project I’m about to join is one that is years in the making and has deep rooted history; and here I am, an outsider about to jump right in! I know that I will have to be patient and flexible with not only the goals of the project and the tasks that I will have to do, I have to be patient and flexible with myself, being in a new environment and learning new things I’ve never had the opportunity to learn before. I hope that by being patient and flexible, I will give the best service I can give, staying motivated and encouraged throughout my time in Zambia.

I also have a strong work ethic that I will be bringing to Zambia. Once a task is assigned to me, I will see it through and finish it to the best of my ability. Although I work hard to get the results I envision, I know my limitations, and I know when to ask for help. There are many tasks that cannot be done alone, and I fully understand and acknowledge this. I welcome and value effective and positive teamwork whenever possible. I also believe that with good work ethic comes a responsibility to ensure that everyone involved with a project or a task is included and has the opportunity to learn and grow. I hope that by continuing this work ethic and maintaining this positive attitude on teamwork that the work I will be doing in Zambia will be not only be effective, but also fulfilling and worthwhile.

And, I couldn’t be where I am today without my strong organizational skills. I enjoy keeping things organized and staying on top of the things I have to do, and I think bringing some of these organizational skills to a place I have never even dreamed about going to will help me keep balance, keep me on track, and hold me accountable to the Peace Corps, the project, and the many reasons why I applied for this in the first place. I worked really hard and prayed many nights to have this opportunity to serve in the Peace Corps, and I don’t want anything to jeopardize it.

2. Identify two strategies for working effectively with host country partners to meet expressed needs.

When I think of strategies for working effectively in this new environment with host partners, I think of two things that really go hand in hand with one another. The first strategy is to honor the past and understand where this project and this work have come from. I think that by doing this, I will not only understand the purpose of why I’m here and why I’m be doing the things I’m doing, but it gives me a sense of belonging that I’m be a part of something bigger than the present, something bigger than myself. I understand that the project I’m about to join has been years in the making and has evolved throughout the years with many people involved from both the Peace Corps and Zambia. I want to work with the host partners to gain as much knowledge and skills as I can to serve and work to the best of my ability. I think that by understanding this and finding my own place within the evolution of Peace Corps Zambia, I will find and maintain a sense of purpose and serve with intention.

The second strategy is to humbly continue the work from those before me and help build the future of the project, whatever that may be. I think that understanding that the goals of the project might not be reached until after my service is over is key to working in the present with eyes in the future. Community norms and behaviors can take years (or more) to take change or develop, and keeping a patient, flexible, open mind about outcomes while serving, will help me stay focused with intentional service. I want to work with the host partners to define my role in this project and realistically map out what legacy I can leave behind or what impact I can have with the time that’s given to me in Zambia.

3. Your strategy for adapting to a new culture with respect to your own cultural background.

My strategy for adapting to a new culture with respect to my own cultural background stems from Paulo Freire and is rooted in one of the values of the Peace Corps. My teaching philosophy has always stemmed from Freire’s explanation of the relationship between the “teacher” and the “student;” that this relationship is a two-way relationship where the “teacher” is really a “teacher-student” and the “student” is really a “student-teacher.” In other words, I will serve in Zambia as an open book, willing to share my own culture and my own lived experiences with respect to those whose community I am now in, while simultaneously learning about Zambian language, culture, customs, and lifestyle. Cultural exchange is one of the things the Peace Corps values and I think that by having this strategy and mindset while adapting to my host community, I will not only learn new things, have the opportunity to teach others, I will maintain one of the Peace Corps’ values of cultural exchange while doing so.

4. The skills and knowledge you hope to gain during pre-service training to best serve your future community and project.

The skills and knowledge I hope to gain during pre-service training include: local language, culture and customs (the do’s and don’ts), the history and future of Peace Corps Zambia, the current goals and objectives and daily work of the project, and skills on how to be safe and secure in this new environment. I also have many questions that probably will be covered in pre-service training, so I am looking forward to having those questions answered. I am looking forward to receiving pre-service training with others because I learn best with interacting with other people/teammates.

5. How you think Peace Corps service will influence your personal and professional aspirations after your service ends.

I think serving in the Peace Corps will influence my life personally by giving me a new and broadened perspective on life and how living in someone else’s shoes can really teach me about who I’ve been and who I want to be. I really look forward in learning new things, meeting new people, and sharing stories and having deep human connection and building relationships outside of the USA. I know that once my service is over, I will have so many experiences and stories to share with my family and friends and everyone back home in the USA to forge even more human connections and relationships. I foresee taking these experiences and paying them forward, hopefully inspiring others to join the Peace Corps.

Professionally, I think that serving in Zambia will give me new skills and experience in HIV/AIDS prevention, with a global scope and perspective. I know that by having this direct experience outside of the USA will make my resume more competitive in the non-profit and health fields. I am also excited to broaden my professional skills in learning and working in two new areas of health: maternal/child health and malaria prevention/control. In returning to the USA, I am hoping that my service with the Peace Corps will give me more opportunities to network and grow within the non-profit and health fields. Who knows? I might find a new job interest or new career path, which I am also very open to post-service.