Saturday, October 23, 2010

Peace Corps Essay #2: Cross-Cultural Experience

Now that I've been nominated to do Health Extension, I wanted to share my second Peace Corps Essay. This essay is about a cross-cultural experience that proves you can adapt cross-culturally, and I wrote mine in line with my desire to pursue a volunteer position in the HIV/AIDS Education and Outreach field...

Peace Corps Volunteers must be open to ideas and cultures different from their own and may need to modify their appearance or behavior appropriately. Give an example (between 250-500 words) of a significant experience that illustrates your ability to adapt in an unfamiliar environment. Please highlight the skills you used and the perspectives you gained. You may draw from experiences in your work, school, or community in the U.S. or abroad. Please list the date(s) of your experience.

While receiving my college degree on stage in June 2009, I was overwhelmed by a dichotomy of emotions. Proud of my accomplishments, I felt ready to take on new challenges. A graduate in Communication and Diversity in Higher Education, I have worked in community non-profit settings, and supported ethnic minority students as the Western Washington University Associated Students Vice President for Diversity. In congruence with growing up in a first-generation, multi-racial household, I was confident in my cultural competency skills. However, I wanted the opportunity to challenge myself in an unfamiliar environment. In November 2009, I said goodbye to my friends and family, and relocated to Boston, Massachusetts.

With no job, no social network, or even familiarity with the area, I was definitely a fish out of water. By March 2010, I secured job at Fenway Health, the largest LGBT community health center in the country. As a Staff Assistant for The Fenway Institute, the HIV/AIDS prevention research division, I worked directly with participants in a behavioral and clinical research setting. Though I was a longtime LGBT advocate, this was a definitely new experience for me. I did not have a very high proficiency working with HIV/AIDS positive individuals, and was in the minority in regard to sexual orientation and gender in the workplace. Of nearly one thousand employees, approximately seventy percent identified as gay, white males. Rather than shy away from the situation, however, I saw it as an opportunity to expand my cultural competency and become a better ally.

I began by educating myself about the origins of HIV/AIDS prevention, and doing research on those affected. Incorporating my experience working with ethnic minority students, I developed a strong connection to Project SOS, a behavioral study aimed at HIV/AIDS prevention in African-American males. I also spent time familiarizing myself with the local LGBT community, as well as the prevalent challenges they faced, by socializing with my co-workers and assisting with research participant outreach at local gay bars and nightclubs. The more I learned, the more confident I felt in my ability to assist in making Fenway Health a safe space. Over time, my interactions with patients and research study participants evolved into more caring and trusting relationships. I even got the opportunity to mentor Pedro, a youth in the LGBT community, as he began his journey through the hormone therapy process. My relationships with co-workers also began to blossom, and I was affectionately embraced as a member of the “Fenway Family.”

I came to Boston for a challenge, and that is exactly what I got. Working at Fenway Health was initially overwhelming, but being vulnerable to sharing knowledge and experiences allowed me to adapt and contribute to this new cultural environment. This invaluable experience has instilled in me the confidence to reach out to a world outside of my studies, personal identities, and community. I will channel this positive approach throughout my ventures as a Peace Corps volunteer.

And The Nominees Are...

I had my (rescheduled) Peace Corps interview with my recruiter on Monday, October 18th. For those who read this for tips in the future, I wore black slacks, heels, and a collared, button-down shirt. I did a lot of research before and found that wearing a suit was a little over the top for this organization. I also did a lot of preparation for the interview, using the questions I found on my favorite resource throughout this process, Peace Corps Wiki! The interview was about and hour and fifteen minutes long, and took place in a small room with my recruiter and her laptop (they transcribe notes to forward to D.C. with your application).

Ready for the most exciting part? I got nominated at the end of my interview! My recruiter nominated me to leave in March 2011 to do Health Extension (primarily HIV/AIDS education and outreach)! I'm sooooo excited. It is a short time away, though, so I'm nervous about preparing for my impending departure. She couldn't say where I would be going since there are a lot of country departures in March, and they are trying to fill open spaces.

The next step is to wait for my official nomination letter in the mail, then my medical packet. I have to do a doctor's visit, get some blood work done, then get a check-up and x-rays at the dentist. After I send that stuff back, she will forward my information to D.C. From there, I wait for an invitation.

I'm really excited that this process is going so fast, and I'm excited to find out where I will be going!!!! I will keep everyone posted about the medical screening process, and promise to announce where I will be going as soon as I find out.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Peace Corps Essay #1: Why Does Kayla Want To Join The Peace Corps?

Since I didn't deliver any exciting news about my interview, here's another treat...

Peace Corps service presents major physical, emotional, and intellectual challenges. You have provided information on how you qualify for Peace Corps service elsewhere in the application. In the space below, please provide a statement (between 250 - 500 words) that includes:

  • Your reasons for wanting to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer; and
  • How these reasons are related to your past experiences and life goals.
  • How you expect to satisfy the Peace Corps 10 Core Expectations (please be specific about which expectations you expect to find most challenging and how you plan to overcome these challenges).

Since my undergraduate experience, I have been embarking on a long and enlightening journey of self discovery and identity development. The more research I do, both on a personal and scholastic level, the more socially conscious I become. As my knowledge about the experiences and struggles of others increase, so does my realization about the privileges I have been bestowed. Subsequently, I developed a sense of social responsibility, which I perceive to be a blessing. A firm believer that one is either part of the solution or part of the problem, I see being a Peace Corps volunteer as a step in the right direction toward contribution to social change.

The first step toward making a difference has been stripping away my prejudices, and opening up to what others are willing to teach me. As stated in the Core Expectations for Volunteers, I am ready to immerse myself in the culture of others. Surpassing the “us” and “them” mentality, I will make the commitment to live and work abroad while exchanging stories and skills with the local residents. I want to understand the unique fundamental concerns that need to be addressed from the best possible source—the people who experience them everyday. From understanding comes awareness, and awareness breeds activism.

Though I anticipate it may be difficult adapting to new living conditions, which is the third of the Core Expectations for Volunteers, my motivations take priority over any desire to avoid discomfort. I pride myself in my ability to maintain a positive and professional view of myself and others, and trust that the vulnerability of being outside of my comfort zone will help me create respectful and multilateral relationships with those around me.

I have a deep passion and desire to help others, which is reflected in my experiences, but I do not fit the mold of the “traditional” role of a grassroots activist. The Peace Corps mission gives me a sense of empowerment in this regard through the presentation of multifaceted opportunities, embracing contributions from all walks of life.

It is impossible to anticipate the experiences that serving as a Peace Corps volunteer will bring. What I do know, however, is that I will return with a greater consciousness and a more global perspective. The influential medical researcher, Alan Gregg, put it best saying, “A good education should leave much to be desired.” Upon my return, I plan to pursue my desire by attending law school and applying what I have learned as I enter public service.

Everything Happens For A Reason

Well, I didn't have my interview yesterday. It was scheduled for 3pm but, as luck would have it, I didn't make it there on time. On the way to the Seattle Regional Office, the car I was driving broke down. I was all the way in the farthest left lane, and it just shut off. I had to call my recruiter to reschedule, while I waited for my friend (and a tow truck) on the side of the highway.

I like to believe that everything happens for a reason, so I was trying to think of one as I sat there across the highway from the Ford dealership. Maybe the Peace Corps office was going to low up today, and I was being saved? Maybe there was going to be some sort of crazy bomb threat in downtown Seattle? I concluded that it I just happy it happened 25 minutes from home, as opposed to downtown I could at least get over to the shoulder without much traffic.

My recruiter was very polite and flexible about the situation, and agreed to reschedule my interview for Monday, October 18th. Hopefully things will go more smoothly then.

I'll let everyone know how the interview goes next week! :)

Friday, October 8, 2010

I Have An Interview!!!!!

I know it has been forever since I posted on here, but I am going to make up for it by giving you a juicy update!

First, I turned in my application (complete with submitted recommendations) on September 25th. Despite my extensive research, I was surprised to find that there was additional legal paperwork that I needed to submit. My recruiter sent it to me in the mail a few days later. I had to go to the Sheriff's Office to get finger prints done for an FBI background check, sign a privacy waiver, and write a letter detailing my financial obligations (and how I will address them during my deployment).

My recruiter called me today to tell me that everything is looking good, and that she wanted to schedule my interview for this coming Wednesday, October 13th at the Seattle Regional Office! Remember how I said that I could be sent as early as March? Well, she asked if I'd even consider being nominated for February. I told her March was the earliest because I needed more time to prepare. I'm really excited, and reallllly nervous!

From what I have read, the interview is structured like a job interview....for a two year job abroad. They judge you on your leadership/work experience, passion, maturity, cultural competency, etc. My recruiter sent me some sample topics they will cover:

1. your reasons for considering Peace Corps Volunteer service

2. your expectations and concerns about working overseas for two years

3. your past work experiences, including volunteer service, paid employment, and campus or community involvement

4. your experiences living and working with people who are different from you

5. your preferences and flexibility about Peace Corps Volunteer assignments and geographic placement

6. personal life issues such as vegetarianism, current romantic relationships, and current financial or legal obligations

I need to get a job ASAP because even though they supply you with a living stipend during deployment, you still need your own money to pay bills at home, take vacations, etc. I will also have to buy some required equipment before I go.

In regard to the application process, the next step after the recruitment interview is getting a nomination. The recruiter who nominates you will assess your skills, then either tell you to get more experience or nominate you for placement. That nomination gets sent to headquarters in Washington, D.C., I then have to do more legal and medical paperwork (specific to that region) to see if I would be eligible to go. After that, I wait for an invitation from headquarters. This all depends on your competitive skill set, openings for placement, and your departure availability. When I get an offer in the mail, I have ten days to respond. They can send me an invitation for something up to six weeks before the departure date!

I actually got my first update e-mail/blog post from my friend, Kara, who left for the Vanuatu Islands on September 10th. It is soooo interesting, and makes me really excited about my own opportunities! If you want to check it out, CLICK HERE! She's learning their national language called Bislama, which is a form of Pidgin English, and there are "Trouser Taxes" for women when they are caught wearing pants or shorts at any time!

I'm going to spend the weekend doing Peace Corps interview research, and freaking out about where I might go! LOL. I will make sure to post how my interview went ASAP :)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A Change of Plans

So, I had big day today. A lot happened, and I have some things to think about.
My sister and I left my house this morning for Seattle this morning at 8 a.m. for two reasons:

1) For a job interview at Solid Ground.
2) To visit the Peace Corps Regional Office in Downtown Seattle.

Even though I decided to live at home and save for the Peace Corps, I figured that it couldn't hurt to go to the interview. Besides, most of the jobs I have applied for over the past few months just closed, so it is nice to finally hear back. The interview went really well, and the organization was in a cute Seattle neighborhood. Afterward, Alina and I went to a delicious bakery called Trophy Cupcakes to celebrate.

When we got back in the car to head to the Peace Corps Regional Office, I had a voicemail from another potential employer, the National Eating Disorders Association, requesting an interview for today! They turned out to be located kitty corner from the Peace Corps Office, and I was already dressed in my suit, so I agreed to stop by. I wasn't as impressed by this organization, but I was glad that I got more interviewing experience out of it.

After the second interview, I went to meet with a Peace Corp Recruiter. The woman I spoke with, who incidentally was the recruiter for a friend of mine who left for her volunteer position a few days ago, was REALLY helpful. I learned a lot more about the organization and the volunteer experience, and it even got my sister excited about it! Here are a few of the highlights:

*With my experience, I actually qualify for two categories--Health Extension and Community Development!
*The funding that the Obama Administration put toward volunteer efforts finally passed, so there are a lot of openings right now!
*I could possibly be selected to deploy as early as January-March 2011, instead of July-December 2011 like I had anticipated!

As you can imagine, this was a lot to take in. There are no guarantees, but if I do get selected early next year, I need to be prepared. Subsequently, I have decided to stay at home in Olympia and save money. It's a little frustrating since the fruits of my labor (in regard to Seattle job applications) are just beginning to ripen :( The way I am approaching it is that it might be a good paying job, but if I would not be prepared to accept an invite from the Peace Corps. If I turn an invite down, I get put in the back of the line for deployment, and I may not go for a year or two...and that is not a sacrifice I'm willing to make.

I'm turning in a job application for here in Olympia tomorrow, and I'll be finishing up my Peace Corps application this week. I'm also going to visit a woman that my mother connected me with about potentially getting a local job at a credit union. I had nothing going on for a few months, then suddenly everything is exploding! I guess my fortune was right :)

On a final note, here are is a picture of the birthday cake I made for my brother. It was super delicious, fresh, and light in sugar.

I'll keep you posted on what comes next :)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

It's Been Too Long Since I've Written An Essay

I'll start today's post with an update on my application process.

Last night, I sent out the requests for my three letters of recommendation. I had to ask for one from a work supervisor, a volunteer supervisor, and a friend. For my letter from a friend I, of course, asked Ashley. She's been my best friend since the tenth grade, and has been with me for a majority of this past hectic year. She was excited that I asked her, but not so excited when I asked her to compare me to Mother Theresa and Oprah....oh, well ;) I'm confident that she is the best person to write an accurate reflection of my skills and aspirations.

While being out of school has had it's perks (no homework!), it has also it's drawbacks. I learned this the hard way as I struggled with my first attempt to write the first of my two essays today. Ugh. Here is the prompt:

Peace Corps service presents major physical, emotional, and intellectual challenges. You have provided information on how you qualify for Peace Corps service elsewhere in the application. In the space below, please provide a statement (between 250 - 500 words) that includes:
  • Your reasons for wanting to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer; and
  • How these reasons are related to your past experiences and life goals.
  • How you expect to satisfy the Peace Corps 10 Core Expectations (please be specific about which expectations you expect to find most challenging and how you plan to overcome these challenges).
My first thought was, "What?!?!? 250-500 words? Kill me." But I got a sort of rough, and I mean ROUGH, outline done today. This might take a lot longer than I thought, but I am setting a deadline to have both essays done by the end of next week. I want to have enough time to have a few people review them. Also, in my research about Peace Corp essays, I found that some people post the finished products on their blog. I intended this to be helpful to others, so I'll post mine when they are done.

Now that I have decided to live at home to save money for my future endeavors, and not move to Seattle as I had originally planned, I have to start the job search over again. After researching what type of experience would be helpful for Peace Corps placement, I have decided to take my mother up on her offer to follow in the family footsteps and work in the realm of....Credit Unions! *audible gasp!* The business practices and financial experience gained from working in non-profits directly translates to helping developing nations create cooperative programs. I'm also going to incorporate some volunteer experience, and am currently researching organizations in the area. Besides, I'm pretty sure it was my destiny to work in Credit Unions at some point. My grandmother is a retired Supervisor for Credit Unions, and my mother is a Credit Union Corporate Trainer. I even have a shirt that I got when I was around nine that says "I'm a Credit Union Kid!"

In unrelated news, I bought ingredients today to make my brother a cake for his 17th birthday tomorrow. It was also his first day of school today, and his first day of work, so there is a lot to celebrate! Since we're nearing the end of strawberry season, I decided to make a Strawberry Charlotte for the very first time. I don't have much baking experience, so wish me luck! I'll post pictures of the yummy creation later.