Sunday, March 30, 2008

Packing List!

Finally, I had the time to compile my own packing list. This is a culmination of the official list and suggestions from other volunteers. If you are a family member or friend who is planning on buying me a graduation/going-away present, feel free to get ideas from my Amazon wish list!

This list will be revised several times prior to departure! Comments in red are my thoughts after being in Cameroon. As a general note, you need to bring enough stuff to deal with the first 3 months in training, before you get the hang of shopping in Cameroon. After that, you can buy most things you need here in country.

General Clothing

[Peace Corps is all about "business casual" during the initial 3 months of training. So bring enough for that. It's a relaxed definition - basically just wear nice clothes, no shorts, etc. After training, there are plenty of chance to buy clothes for cheap in the "frip", or getting them made."]
short-sleeve collar shirts (4)
dark cotton t-shirts (5)
casual tees (5)
jeans (1) [Depending on where you live, this may or may not be necessary. They are very difficult to wash by hand.]
knee-length (or longer) skirts (4)
light linen pants/light PJ
athletic shorts (2)
long shorts (1)
leather belt
socks (10)
rain jacket [essential for the rainy season!]
thin sweatshirt
jean jacket
swimming suit
earrings (5)
hair clips/ties (many)

Shoes
Casual Shoes(Teva Makayla)
Sports Sandal (Teva Omium) [not all the necessary. I only wore it once to go on a hike that nearly killed me. Not that useful if you aren't super sporty.]
Waterproof Sandal (Keen Bali)
Sandal (Teva Downtown OLA) [casual yet a bit dressy sandal like this was great. I wore this pair of shoes almost everyday for the first 8 months at post.]
Running Shoes

Personal Hygiene/Toiletry
Antibacterial Hand Sanitizer (one medium-size bottle)
Vitamin/herbal supplement
Body Wash (2)
deodorant (2)
Lotion (1)
Sunscreen (1)
Insect Repellent (higher deet %) [didn't end up bringing this, and isn't necessary. Peace Corps provides them.]
Prescription Drug (3 months) [general rule for meds: PC will provide all the regular over-the-counter stuff you need from the moment you arrive, the prescription drugs take a while, so they recommend 3 months initial supply]
Allergy Meds
Pain Killers
Cold/flu medicine
Tums/Chinese tummy meds
Prescription Eyeglasses (2) [PC advised against wearing contact lenses, but I ended up wearing it for most of two years. It wasn't a problem. Just be sure to bring a lot of contact solution!
Sunglasses
Facial toner (2)
Face lotion (1)
Tissue
Cotton Rounds
Q-tips
Diva Cup/sanitary wash [highly recommended for girls!]
Hair gel (2)
Leave-in Conditioner
Loofa (1)
Toothbrush (2)
Toothpaste (1)
Floss (3)
Hairbrush (1)
Tweezer, Razor/blades
Nail kit/clear nail polish
Minimal make-up (2 eye-liners & eye-shadow)
Earplugs
Small hand towels
Travel Towels (2)
Eye Mask

Office Supplies
notebooks (4)
Books
Writing utensil
Project-related books [didn't end up bringing these and weren't necessary.]
Journal (1)
18-month weekly planner
scotch tape
scissor
CD-RW(1)

Kitchen Supplies
Plastic storage containers [possibly the best thing I brought with me. Pack your things in them. They are SO useful! tupperwear rock!]
Measuring cups and spoons
Ziploc style bags
Swiss army knife
Snack food
Small nonstick frying pan
Small cutting board
pairing knife
peeler
Light weight packaged food
Can opener
Spices
Luna Bars [These were incredibly great in the beginning when you aren't totally used to the food and the eating pattern, and there weren't much snacks to be bought.]
Emergen-C
Crystal Light/Propel packets

Electronics
iPod+travel speakers
Macbook [if you are bringing a computer, make sure you back up your files at home, and also bring an external hard drive - load that puppy up with movies, TV shows, language learning resources (French movies, etc) - be prepared for something bad to happen to your computer at some point during the service. the horrible electricity in Cameroon does damage. If you are buying a new one to bring, I recommend those cheap Netbooks.]
Cannon SD 450 Powershot + extra memory cards
Solio Classic hybrid solar charger [not necessary if short on money. but very useful as a backup battery, especially if you get posted somewhere power cuts a lot, or no power at all. - although I think for most PC countries/posts, this isn't necessary.]
Hand-Crank Emergency/Shortwave Radio [great for those quiet nights when the power goes out. I just got a cheap one and it picks up Radio France International and other local channels]
USB Flashdrive (2)
Power Adapter/Converter Kit

Luggages
Eagle Creek Grand Voyage 90L Travel Pack
Eddie Bauer Rolling Duffle
Daypack
Moneybelt

Miscellaneous
Passport-size photos (12) Got them at ePassportphotos.com via Snapfish. So much cheaper!
PC Handbook/paperwork
Loan paperwork
Pictures/album
Postcards/decoration for house
World Map [Great for decorating the house and the neighborhood kids love them!]
Book of puzzle
Stationary/greeting cards
U.S. stamps
Freeplay Energy Hand Crank LED Lantern
Hand-Crank Flashlight [very essential! I also wish I brought a headlight since those frees up your hand if you are trying to cook in the dark, etc.]
Nalgene Bottle
Reliable Watch
Travel Alarm Clock
TSA Approved Combination locks [these were useful. I used them to always lock my bags when I was traveling, just to give myself a piece of mind. The number combination is nice since you don't have to worry about losing keys.]
Calculator
Good quality umbrella
French pocket Dictionary
Pocket-sized French Verb Guide
Compressible Pillow
Travel Sheet Set
Laundry Bag
Laundry stain remover
Clothing Line
Small mirror
Duct Tape
Jump Robe
Deck of Cards

Gifts for Locals
Inflatable globe ball
Boxes of Crayola crayons (2)
STL/USA stuff

Friday, March 28, 2008

Motivation Statement

The following are the essays accompanied my application.

Motivation Statement


The Peace Corps has always intrigued me immensely. Over the past year, I have spent many hours researching the organization and gaining an understanding via many Peace Corps Volunteers’ blogs. With each heart-warming story, my passion for the program and its mission grew stronger. As I head toward the next chapter of life, I choose to join the Peace Corps because it successfully encompasses elements I consider important for a well-rounded life: service, international mobility, cultural immersion and career development.

Pursuing an undergraduate degree at a Jesuit university was never an intention as I am not a member of the Catholic faith. However, service-oriented Saint Louis University has taught me the virtue of volunteerism by introducing a plethora of community service activities. For the past three years, I have been a tutor at a local church for inner-city school children. Despite coming from an undesirable background, the kids are eager to better themselves; a mere few hours of my time can exchange for a higher grade and a better future for these children. This volunteer activity, among many others, is a motivation for me to continue serving others.

Life experiences, thus far, have taught me the significance of cultural integration around the world and the rewarding challenges of become immersed in yet another culture. With each adventure, I feel less a citizen of one nation, but rather a citizen of the world. However, living abroad and cultural immersion should not simply be a privilege for the young. An internship at the U.S. Embassy in London allowed me to see first hand the lives of Foreign Service professionals and how they integrate international mobility, cultural immersion and a rewarding career. As a finance and economics student, I strive to incorporate all those elements with the analytical nature of my studies to form a global career.

My enthusiasm for the Peace Corps intensified when I discovered the business branch of the service. Throughout college, work and service have always been two separate activities for me. Devoting time to business-related internships in the corporate world meant volunteer work had to remain an “on-the-side” activity. For a long time, I pondered over ways to utilize my business skills to make a direct contribution for others, incorporating service into a “day job”. The video clips of Peace Corps Volunteers advising businesses in developing countries around the world were the answers to my internal dilemma.

The Peace Corps will not only provide international mobility and an incredible culture immersion experience, but will also present one- of- a- kind career development that I cannot obtain from within the glass buildings of fancy corporate offices. The decision to join the Peace Corps has already been an inspirational experience, and I hope to continue this experience through serving the international community; learning life lessons via a different culture, discovering personal qualities I yet know existed and fine-tuning a life plan that will make an impact, one small element at a time.

Cross-Cultural Experience

Cross-Cultural Experience

In July 1998, at age 11, I waved goodbye to my family and all familiarities of life. I grew up in Taiwan where children fantasized over an idealized America: Disney cartoons, life without uniforms and a low-pressured school system. Due to family reasons, I was the “guinea pig” in the immigration process and was sent to live with my aunt and American uncle for two years. As I boarded the aircraft, several drops of tears fell as I saw my parents waving at the gate. However, excitements for the bright, yet unknown future drowned out the sadness in an instant. At that very moment, my life changed forever – I was on my way to becoming an American.

Moving to a stereotypical suburb of St. Louis was quite a shock since I came from a bustling pedestrian city of Taiwan. While driving through the suburb, I asked in confusion “Where is everyone?” The concept of driving everywhere was difficult to grasp. The first day of school in America marked an interesting event. I was both nervous and excited in hopes of getting along with my peers. However, a few shock elements took place. At an orientation assembly for all 6th graders, I was the only one who didn’t raise my hand to the question, “Is this school much larger from the ones you came from?” Coming from an elementary school in Taiwan that had a campus the size of some small colleges in the U.S., a middle school that contained in one building paled in comparison. Another shock element was that I couldn’t understand people. While I attended an after school English program in Taiwan for some time, facing real life Americans and carrying on conversations still proved to be challenging. In addition, as the only Asian face at the school, kids asked an overwhelming number of questions out of pure curiosity. Not knowing how to manage the excess attention, I desperately wanted to be “normal.”

Many years later, I have assimilated very well and couldn’t be more of a “normal” American. In July 2005, at the end of my first year in college, I had the opportunity to participate in a study abroad program in Angers, France. There I had the chance to interact with people of many nationalities and understand the concept of an international community. I found myself using that much-rusted Mandarin to order Chinese food in France when the waitress couldn’t understand my broken French. For the first time since immigrating to the US, I began evaluating my role as an American and my heritage as a Taiwanese.

Since France, I have spent approximately seven months in total, living and working in the U.K. Throughout my experiences abroad, I have truly enjoyed living, learning and integrating myself into a new culture. The process unavoidably involves some frustration and discouragement, but I always manage to walk away a stronger person and eager to seek similarly challenging, yet new and exciting experiences.

Monday, March 10, 2008

What the heck does Wendy need?

I don't NEED anything, but some things are good to have for various reasons.

  • M&Ms (peanut & peanut butter)
  • Chinese ramen & other Asian snacks
  • Non-perishable foods (candy! or any dry goods from Trader Joe's!)
  • Raisins, jell-o packets, peanut butter (Skippy Extra Chunky), fruit Mentos, trail mix...
  • Gatorade, Crystal Light (or other) single serving powder drink packets
  • Salty Snacks (Cheerio salty mix, Doritos, Flavor Blasted Goldfish, etc.)
  • Dry Parmesan Cheese
  • Maple Syrup
  • Air freshner/scented candle
  • Tea and coffee
  • Back issues of the Economist or other publications (Vogue, The New Yorker, Budget Traveler)
  • Luna/Cliff Bar (or other energy protein bars)
  • (Used) books you think I'd like (or on my Amazon wish list) - I'll take them in all 3 languages: Chinese, English & French!
  • Burned CDs of music
  • DVDs (Any TV show or movie that has French voiceover and English subtitle!)

Amazon.com ships to Cameroon and their shipments have insurance! Something to think about!

More coming soon!

Merci Beaucoup!!

Mailing me stuff? Please read!

Below is the mail suggestions provided by the Peace Corps office. I have also heard that packages marked by red ink, religious writing (draw crosses, write Bible verses and address me as Soeur or Sister), and insurance increase the likelihood of arrival. The insurance is just a few dollars and if you are already sending something, what's another few bucks to make sure the cookies aren't being eaten by the Cameroonian postal workers? Also, people have told me that sending packages using the flat rate box is cheaper and since it looks more official, they usually make it here! FYI, the average time for packages to reach me is one and a half months!

The following suggestions and postal regulations may be useful:

1. Mail should be sent directly to the Yaoundé address, OR directly t your Volunteer's post address once training is finished.

2. Both Volunteers and family members should number letters sent so that the receiver can determine whether any letters do not arrive.

3. Packages should be sent via air, not surface mail (surface mail has been known to take longer
than two years to arrive.)

4. Sending packages to your Volunteer in Cameroon is a risky proposition. Theft of packages is
not only a problem in the Cameroonian postal system, it also occurs on the U.S. side. Although occasionally a package arrives quickly and without problems, it may take months or it may get
"lost" along the way. Therefore, it is not advisable to send valuables this way.

5. If you do send packages, bubble envelopes seem to work better than large boxes. They are
less tempting to would-be thieves. The sender should clearly and honestly mark the contents
on the outside of the package, but a
general description of the contents is sufficient: "clothing
and candy" rather than "Nike high top sneakers and 2 lbs. Godiva chocolate."

6. Express mail is an expensive option that may take just as long to get to Cameroon. Perhaps
a more secure option than regular airmail for documents, checks, etc., it is subject to more
scrutiny by Cameroonian customs than regular mail. For items other than documents, Peace
Corps staff has to submit import licenses to customs, and clearance can take up to 10 days.
Thus, you may not necessarily save any time by using Express mail. DHL and UPS operate in Cameroon for those important documents. Note that current prices for these services run
around $100.00 for one pound or less.

7. There is a tax which Volunteers will have to pay on all packages received before they can
retrieve them from the post office. This tax varies according to the size of the package. It might
be a nice gesture from friends or family to send a six-pack of Mountain Dew, but it may cost a Volunteer up to $10.00 to get it out of the post office.

8. Packages sent to the Yaoundé office are sent regularly to Volunteer posts. This may delay
delivery to the Volunteer by up to several weeks.

9. If Volunteers wish to send a package from Yaoundé to the States, Cameroon postal rates
are high and insurance is not available. For this reason, many Volunteers wait to send
packages with returning PCVs (whom they ask first, in country) or wait until their Completion of Service (COS) date to send home gifts and souvenirs. Letters going to the States through the Cameroon post have been quite dependable.

10. US postage-stamped letters can be put in the "next traveler" box at the Peace Corps office
in Yaoundé, to be hand carried by the next person going Stateside. Note that this is a courtesy,
not an obligation, and Volunteers shouldn't expect any traveler to carry more than letter mail, unless special arrangements are made with the individual. Air travelers may be required to
open letters and packages and/or submit them to X-rays, especially when they don't belong to
the traveler.

11. The Cameroon Desk in Peace Corps Headquarters, Washington, is available to answer
Volunteer & families' questions about mail. Due to staff and budget constraints, they cannot, however, facilitate the sending of personal mail for Trainees and Volunteers.



Timeline

If anyone is curious, this is the timeline of my application process. I was pretty lucky and didn't face too many difficulties both on the interview/qualification and the medical front!

August 27, 2007: Began Application
September 8, 2007: Submitted Application
September 24, 2007: Interview
October 4, 2007: Nomination
Sub-Sahara Africa, Business Advising, June 2008
October 6: Began Medical Clearance Process
January 5: Received Medical Clearance
February 9, 2008: Invitation Notice
February 19, 2008: Invitation Received
Country: Cameroon
Program: Small Business Development
Job Title: Small Business Advisor
Dates of Service: Aug. 21, 2008 - Aug. 20, 2010
Orientation Dates: June 04-06, 2008
Pre-service Training (in Bangante): June 07 - August 20, 2008.
*dates subject to change