September 11, 2004: Headlines: COS - Macedonia: PVs in the Field - Macedonia: Personal Web Site: Lisa Nicole Cooper in Macedonia
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September 11, 2004: Headlines: COS - Macedonia: PVs in the Field - Macedonia: Personal Web Site: Lisa Nicole Cooper in Macedonia
Lisa Nicole Cooper in Macedonia
Lisa Nicole Cooper in Macedonia
Tips for Incoming Peace Corps Volunteers...
You can find a lot of information on this subject on the official Peace Corps website - there is a link to it on my home page. You already know that you need to pack, you need to say goodbye, you need to deal with financial or personal matters prior to leaving. You have probably already been going through the application process for such a long time, that you have had plenty of time to ask yourself all the questions... How will I react to living in such a different environment? How will I deal with the language barrier? Will I be able to adjust to a slower pace of work? How will I feel about not seeing my loved ones for extended periods of time? What coping strategies will I use to help me deal with isolation, loneliness and frustration? Or maybe you were like me and you just want to see PICTURES of where you are going, in a futile attempt to predict, organize, and control your future! Give that up right now! The PC experience varies drastically, and it will for you, too. If there is any way that I can help you, don't hesitate to drop me an e-mail. Say something in the subject line that will catch my eye as I scan through my bulk mail folder, or else it might slip through my filters. If you don't hear from me, go ahead and ask me via the guest book - I authorize all entries before they are posted, so I see them at least weekly.
Specific to the Republic of Macedonia... especially for the Mak 8's coming to Macedonia September 2003...
If you want to know about PACKING:
Prior to my coming here, I did a lot of research in an attempt to compile the "perfect" PC Macedonia packing list. I looked at different former volunteers' websites, trying to gather clues. Don't be disappointed, but...I still don't have the perfect list. But I have learned a few things along the way that might make it a little bit easier for you. Here are some of my tips on packing, from someone who just went through it all in the last six months:
SOME MISTAKES I MADE & RECOMMENDATIONS:
I packed a few items that are widely available in Macedonia, namely ballpoint pens, batteries, cotton, Q-tips, razors, extra shoelaces for my hiking boots, toothpaste, clothespins, staples, scissors, tape, air mail envelopes, deodorant. I had sent to me a fleece pullover from home - I really screwed up by not bringing one to layer. I got sick of all my uncomfortable sweaters pretty fast. I should have brought a jean jacket, they are popular and versatile. Thermals and long-sleeved shirts are good, as well as a pair of khakis, slacks, and some business attire. If you bring jeans don't bring the trendy faded ones that tear like I did. If you come in the winter bring gloves, a hat, a scarf, and a warm coat. (I am not joking about the scarves, we all brought them and ended up wearing them daily.) I can't emphasize enough: layers-layers-layers. There is lots of snow and ice in the winter, I heard that some former volunteers here bought those little metal things that you can clip onto your shoes to keep from slipping on the ice. Sounds cool, I suppose you could get them at a sporting goods shop? Don't stress like I did about bringing tons and tons of clothes. You can buy clothes here for a reasonable price, and it will help you blend in more. Your clothes from home will wear out soon enough if you are like me and don't have a washing machine. You don't need to bring an umbrella or slippers because you can get them here. I did not take bringing a small empty duffel bag inside my luggage seriously, but it would have helped me out. You will be going around different places for a few days, and your stuff may not fit inside just your backpack. But you don't want to lug a giant suitcase, either. It is hard to find good notebooks in many places. My dad sent me a couple of sturdy 5-subject notebooks - you will be glad if you bring one or two good ones for all the notes you will be taking as soon as you get here for training and language classes. The PC will give you some little notebooks with the graph paper that is so common here...but they're just not the same! I wish I would have brought one of those lint rollers. You might want to bring some permanent markers, and some folders - you are going to be receiving more paperwork than you want to hear about.
THINGS I AM SO GLAD I BROUGHT:
The number one thing is my laptop and accessories - a few floppy disks, required cables, phone cord, CDS to reinstall important programs in case of a crash, etc. (I read that a laptop and printer were recommended - if you have a laptop certainly bring it, but no one brought a printer and we're all just fine!) Bring (1) an adaptor and (2) a power transformer. (Your laptop probably has built-in surge protector and power converter, but check it out.) If you have any doubts about this, please refer to my online journal entry entitled "Digital Camera Adventures" and you will see just what I mean. Don't procrastinate doing this until you get here - when you get here you may be overwhelmed and on a schedule that doesn't facilitate you heading on over to your nearest electronics store in your car like you could do at home. Right up there with that would be a few good books and DVD movies, receipts and or owner's manuals for any equipment you bring (to avoid customs taxes when returning to the U.S.). My sleeping bag!! If you have one that compresses really small you are all set. A discman and a good set of headphones! I also have a shortwave radio which is super. I am really glad I went on down to Radio Shack and brought a little travel alarm clock. I like it because it can display the temperature in Fahrenheit and Celsius, which has been more helpful than I can say. Small sewing kit and mini set of tools with screwdrivers and pliers. I am glad that I brought a pair of flip-flops because I hate taking showers in hotels or hostels without them. People brought a nice suit and tie, or a dress for the Swearing-In Ceremony. An address book on my laptop of all the addresses and phone numbers of people at home that I want to correspond with. My sturdy backpack with a water bottle net, because I am always going on hikes or weekend trips and it is so handy. Nail clippers. Some twisty ties, a mini-stapler, a highlighter, a lot of Ziploc bags, and measuring cups!! I can't emphasize this enough. If you bring your favorite recipe book (PC will give you one also, put together by us and former volunteers) you will need measuring cups from home because the metric system is used here. I am really glad I brought lots of photos from home because they are a great icebreaker. People will want to see pictures of where you lived in the U.S. and will want to see pictures of your entire family and your friends. This helped me learn the vocabulary for family members prior to the lesson! It was also a good idea to bring a gift for my homestay family. I gave them a book with lots of pictures (minimal words) about California, as well as a beautiful wall calendar. Whatever you bring them will be appreciated and displayed for all to see! My brother gave me a few sink stoppers and door stops. He said that if I was in a creepy hotel room without a lock on the door (the PC won't do that to you, but when you are traveling independently it could happen), I could use the door stops to ram the door shut from the inside. A couple of people brought some more specialized things, such as ski suits. One person even brought a bicycle! I won't name any names, but someone brought a pair of glow-in-the-dark Halloween teeth! Even though I am mentioning this last - it is very important: don't forget to bring your flexibility, confidence, and positive spirit. Even though you might wonder, what am I getting myself into, you can succeed, and you will!
THINGS YOU MIGHT BE ASKING PEOPLE TO SEND YOU:
My parents sent me some Woolite and scented candles, and then I found out you can buy those things in Vero or Tinex, large grocery stores in the capitol city, Skopje. I have also bought sliced bread, tomato sauce, cinnamon, basil, curry, soy sauce, olive oil, and nutmeg at those stores. So far here I have not seen maple syrup, licorice, peanut butter (they will tell you it's peanut butter but I swear it's not the same), chocolate chip cookies, or tin foil. You can get saran wrap at some places. There is pudding but it definitely is not Jell-o instant! You aren't going to find that nifty gel instant hand sanitizer, Fabreeze or mouthwash, so if you feel strongly about these things, you can bring them or have someone send them. I loved it when I got a package with instant blueberry pancake mix and a potholder with a sunflower on it. Here you can buy what you will need for your apartment: egg slicer, cheese grater, corkscrew, bottle opener, cutting board, scale, potato/carrot peeler, sharp knives, etc. so don't stress about any of those things. I did bring a good can opener, though, because I'd heard the ones here seem to break a lot. An English dictionary and thesaurus ...duh? Who would have thought that I would forget words so quickly? You can find so many things you want or need in Macedonia that you should not worry about it at all. I went to Bulgaria recently on vacation with four other PCVs and we went nuts buying ice trays, tortilla chips, taco seasoning and Heinz 57 steak sauce!!
In pharmacies here you can find feminine hygiene products like pads and tampons. The only kind of tampons I have seen in Macedonia are the kind without plastic applicators (OB). In stores in some of the bigger towns you can find scented lotions, shower gels, exfoliants, perfumes, etc. Even in small villages you can find shampoo, but conditioner is sometimes harder to find. Many shampoos are of the 2-in-1 variety, which I hate. My suggestion is that you bring enough shampoo and conditioner to last you through Staging and the first week. (We totally pilfered shampoo and conditioner samples from the Staging hotel!) It is unnecessary to waste packing space for these items as they are available everywhere here, and so are good brands of soap like Dove or Palmolive. If you wear makeup you should bring the things that you like to wear. It is difficult to find makeup in smaller places here. You can find them in the capitol or you can order good products through Oriflame - a Swedish beauty company here that women really like to order via catalogs. Maybe this isn't important to you, because it wasn't pressingly important to me, but I was curious, so I thought I'd throw it out there and save you the trouble of trying to find out!! I remember reading one suggestion from a former volunteer that curling irons and hair dryers were wasted packing space. I beg to differ on the issue of the hair dryer. We came here in winter and it was snowing. I have very long hair. Even if you don't have long hair, a hair dryer can keep you from getting a cold or pneumonia. Mine converts from 125 (home) up to 250 (here is 220) so all I need is the adaptor - the little thing you plug into the outlet so the prongs fit. Also, you aren't exactly going to be camping - its still Europe and I have found the women to be pretty stylish. (I guess I arrived in jeans and mountain boots, ready to live in a hut, and they were here with painted fingernails wearing long furry coats and high-heeled boots!) I brought a straightening iron and a curling iron as well. It really is up to your preferences. You should maintain whatever practices will make you feel comfortable. You can also choose to buy a hair dryer after arriving here to avoid the power/prong issues. I didn't do that because I wanted it while traveling. I brought a bunch of good stretchy hair bands, the sturdy kind without the metal bar. I also brought a good sports bra for jogging and am so glad I did.
Peace Corps will be giving you a medical kit - you have a list of what is included with that already in your welcome book or assorted paperwork. Outside of the medical kit I chose to bring Dramamine and those motion sickness bracelets (Sea-Band) because I needed them to travel here. You don't need to bring tons of Ibuprofen or toothbrushes or band-aids, because these things, as you can see, are part of the medical kit. The best thing probably that you can do is to review what will be provided and make decisions on what you might be requiring additionally (such as specialized herbs or vitamins, dandruff shampoo, cleanser for a mouthpiece you wear at night...can you tell I am speaking from experience?) and bring a few months' supply. Once you are at site you can have family or friends send you what you need to meet your personal needs. Don't forget to keep personal items or daily medications that you require handy in your carry-ons while traveling. You don't want to dig and repack during Staging. I found it helpful to bring along one of those sleep masks with a good elastic band, so it doesn't fall off when you sleep. It is handy if you are ill and need to rest during daylight. You will have a smoke detector and water distiller from the Peace Corps when you go to site.
First and foremost, don't stress! Relax and try to take in everything that you are experiencing. I tried to pack my business attire on top so I wouldn't have to dig for it - during Staging and your first several days of training in-country you will be expected to wear business casual attire. Think: slacks, long skirts, things like this, nothing super fancy. I found it handy to keep the following items available in my purse or backpack as carry-on: drinking water, hand sanitizer, camera, daily medications and motion sickness pills, gum (especially if your ears build up pressure when you fly), a pen, toilet paper (let's be serious, you won't often find it in public bathrooms here), and a deck of cards or good book for layovers. You will also be given paperwork at Staging so leave a little room in your backpack to slide it in there. Some people had journals to write in and pre-stamped postcards to send home last-minute. I wore a money belt to keep personal documents and money secure while traveling. Don't underestimate how dehydrated you can get while traveling or at times of stress and uncertainty. Make sure you drink plenty of fluids in order to stay well. The PC will have bottled water for you when you arrive in-country at the hotel, but be aware that the water will probably be carbonated. I hated it at first because it has an odd taste (not like the sweet carbonated water I bought at home), but it grows on you. There were 20 of us in our group when we arrived and I can still remember being at the airport in Vienna and three or four of us at once twirling, pointing, and counting heads silently to ascertain that everyone was accounted for!! Oh yeah, and if you have a Lonely Planet book for this area, you might enjoy it while traveling independently!
SOME KEY WORDS...
Hello - Zdravo
Goodbye - Prietno
This is all you need for now! =-)
ON A FINAL NOTE...
You know, all I can say is that if this doesn't cover it, send me an e-mail! =-) Try to keep everything in perspective and just relax and have fun. You are about to embark on one of the greatest adventures ever! Make a list, double-check it as you pack, and then forget about it and concentrate on living it up! I wish you all the best, and I will try to help you if you have further questions or clarifications.
When this story was posted in October 2004, this was on the front page of PCOL:
| Director Gaddi Vasquez: The PCOL Interview|
PCOL sits down for an extended interview with Peace Corps Director Gaddi Vasquez. Read the entire interview from start to finish and we promise you will learn something about the Peace Corps you didn't know before.
Plus the debate continues over Safety and Security.
| Schwarzenegger praises PC at Convention|
Governor Schwarzenegger praised the Peace Corps at the Republican National Convention: "We're the America that sends out Peace Corps volunteers to teach village children." Schwarzenegger has previously acknowledged his debt to his father-in-law, Peace Corps Founding Director Sargent Shriver, for teaching him "the joy of public service" and Arnold is encouraging volunteerism by creating California Service Corps and tapping his wife, Maria Shriver, to lead it. Leave your comments and who can come up with the best Current Events Funny?
Read the stories and leave your comments.
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Story Source: Personal Web Site
This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Macedonia; PVs in the Field - Macedonia