The last few weeks have been busy, to say the least, as I finished Pre-Service Training (PST) and officially graduated from a Peace Corps Trainee (PCT) to a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV).
My final week in Panauti was full of language classes, agriculture trainings, presentations and preparing for our final technical practicum, which involved giving a community training entirely in Nepali. The days were long and tiring, but everything eventually fell into place. The technical practicum went really well, despite the language challenges, and my endless studying was starting to pay off. It was bittersweet knowing that soon, I would no longer have the safety net of living within an hour of my fellow Trainees and that we would all be going our separate ways to start our service across the country. However, we made the most of our little time remaining in Panauti and still found time to celebrate the end of this chapter.
On 16 April, I said goodbye to my first Nepali host family and the town of Panauti, where I spent my first 2.5 months in country training for service. It was sad to say goodbye, but I was more than ready to get to Kathmandu, finish training, Swear-In as a Peace Corps Volunteer and finally start my service. We loaded up all our stuff in jeeps and set off for Kathmandu that afternoon. When we arrived and unpacked, we had the evening free to explore the nearby tourist district, Thamel. Obviously, I headed straight for the Mexican restaurant nearby with my friend Ariel, eager to feast on some western food. I had pretty realistic expectations going into this meal – I know from experience that Mexican food abroad is never as good as good ‘ole American Tex Mex. However, I was pleasantly surprised by how delicious the cheesy enchiladas, guac and mojitos were!
The next day we had training in the morning, followed by the dreaded Language Proficiency Interview (LPI). In order to pass, you have to score an intermediate-mid language proficiency, which is challenging considering we had only been studying Nepali for about 9 weeks at the time. The interview consists of sitting in a room with a trained language evaluator and just talking (in Nepali of course) for 30 minutes about various topics, such as family, work, education, etc. I think I sweated more during that interview than I have in months as I rambled about stuff in broken Nepali wondering if I conjugated my verbs right. However, my studying paid off and I was happy to find out I passed!
The next day was our last day of training and also the first time we got to meet our supervisors. When I walked into the room, it was very clear that women were significantly underrepresented. I think I spotted two or three women in the room and could only hope that one of them would be my supervisor. Turns out, one of them was! I didn’t get long to chat with her, and my Nepali skills still aren’t good enough to have a deep conversation, but I know she works for the local municipality health office where I will be serving and works primarily in the areas of nutrition, family planning and mental health.
With training officially over, I decided to celebrate. After some thought (although not much, I’ll admit), my friend, Sophie, and I got our noses pierced. In Nepal, women often get the left side of their nose pierced after going through puberty, traditionally, to signify they are ready for marriage. Additionally, it is believed that a piercing on the left side of the nose is connected to a woman’s reproductive organs, providing strength and alleviating pain during childbirth. While I’m personally not ready for marriage or childbirth any time soon, I will say that having this piercing helps me connect with Nepali women who are always thrilled to see it! Plus, for about $6 USD, I figured I had nothing to lose.
On Friday, 19 April, we officially Swore-In as Peace Corps Volunteers. All the women in my training class decided to wear saris for the event and it was fun doing each other’s make up, helping each other get dressed (trust me, putting a sari on is NOT an easy task!) and having a photo shoot at the hotel. That afternoon we headed to the U.S. Ambassador’s Residence where some 200 people, including top-level government officials, partner organizations and the media were there to celebrate with us. After a few songs and speeches, the U.S. Ambassador to Nepal, Randy Berry, led us in the Peace Corps Pledge, in which we promised to dedicate the next two years of our lives to serving the United States and people of Nepal. We were officially “Sworn-In”, graduating from Peace Corps Trainees to Peace Corps Volunteers.
That night we all went out to celebrate. I had dinner with a few PCVs at a really nice restaurant in Thamel that served all the western classics, from pizza to quesadillas. I ordered the pesto pasta (my favorite) with cheesy garlic bread and wondered how long it will be until I get to have pasta again. After dinner, I met up with one of my old friends from university who just happens to live and work in Kathmandu. It was so nice to see a friend from my life before Peace Corps and have a chance to catch up on what we’ve been up to since graduating. Although it was fun to finally have a chance to go out, being the old woman that I am (I’m 25.5 you know), I still managed to be in bed by 11:30 that night.
The next day, we had the entire day off! I enjoyed what I knew would be the last opportunity to sleep in for a long time and then headed to the Kathmandu farmer’s market. For expats, the Farmer’s Market is the place to be seen and is like a little western bubble in the middle of Kathmandu. This bubble was uncomfortable in a lot of ways, also incredibly comforting at the same time, especially with lots of western favorites, such as bagels and cream cheese, available! After walking around the market and eating way too much food, I decided to head back to Thamel to do some last-minute shopping before leaving for site. I treated myself to one last good coffee at Himalayan Java (the Starbucks of Nepal) and enjoyed one last western meal at an amazing Mediterranean restaurant called OR2K before heading back to the hotel to pack up all my stuff in preparation for a long trip out west.
Although the end of PST was a whirlwind, I know I’m going to look back and remember this time with such fond memories. It’s been a period of stress, exhaustion, learning and transition but also full of excitement as we get ready to depart for our permanent sites, where the next two years of our lives will unfold.