Thursday, February 28, 2013

Panama Inspiration

Knowing that I'm going to moving to a foreign country in less than four months has put me in a permanent state of excitement, which I'm sure is getting old very quickly for my room-mates and close friends.

To keep myself from talking about the big move too much, I've begun to take out my excitement by learning all I can about Panama and the culture I'll be assimilating into.  Though I feel like I have a pretty good idea of what I should expect, I know that everything is up in the air until I'm actually assigned to a community after my Pre-Service Training and swearing in.

For example, if you google "Panama," you'll get something like this:


But I'll probably be seeing things more like this:


Either way, I am so incredibly excited to get to Panama and immerse myself into a foreign culture.  I plan on backpacking my way around the country during breaks from work, though I'm sure I'll be bringing a whole new meaning to "cheap travel."  

If you want to see more of my image collection of Panama- which is ever expanding, by the way- check out my Pinterest board!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Peace Corps Timeline

Before experiencing it for myself, I never would have believed how much work and time goes into a Peace Corps application.  As per my experience, getting your nomination or placement doesn't slow down the paperwork or required steps- it just piles on more and gives you shorter deadlines! Although everyone's experience is different, there are similarities in timing and steps.  Here's what I experienced:

June 1, 2012: Completed my online application.  With multiple essays,  questionnaires, and health forms this is NOT your typical job application.  Though I finished the initial application in two days, you should definitely allow yourself at least a week.  There is a LOT to cover.  Read my application essays here.  

June 17, 2012: Completed the Health Status Review

June 20, 2012: Received an email from a placement officer ensuring that though I indicated a preference for Latin American countries, I was willing to accept an assignment wherever there is a need for my skill set.  

July 2, 2012: Proceeded with the next application phase by completing and submitting skill addendums (Extra questions about related experience), fingerprinting charts, background check forms, a notarized guarantee that my parents would cover any school loans during my service, and a college transcript.  As these were all due by July 10, I was in a little bit of a rush to get them done.  

August 2012: My recruiter unofficially informed me that I would be offered an interview

October 26, 2012: After following up with my recruiter, we scheduled a phone interview for mid November

November 21, 2012: Phone Interview with my recruiter.  Lasting about an hour and a half, we talked about my experience, Peace Corps requirements, challenges for volunteers, and also what can be gained from the experience.  This was a great time for me to ask all of the questions I had, as well as to see where I stood as an applicant.  Luckily, my recruiter told me that I was an exceptional candidate and would be receiving a nomination soon!

January 2, 2013: After following up with my recruiter I received my official nomination to serve as an agriculture volunteer departing in June, 2013.  My recruiter eased my concern about working with agriculture as he assured me the position has a heavy business education/management aspect  

Mid-January, 2013: Completed a second set of fingerprints in addition to some miscellaneous paperwork

February 11, 2013: Received an "urgent" email from a placement officer requesting an additional questionnaire to be used for placing me in an official position.  I completed the forms within a few hours. 

February 12, 2013: Received a follow-up email thanking me for being prompt while also telling me not to be alarmed if I didn't hear anything from them for several weeks........

February 22, 2013: But then I received my official invitation to begin training as a Sustainable Agricultural Systems Extension Agent in Panamá on June 19, 2013!!

February 23, 2013: Accepted my invitation!  

February 25, 2013: Received an email with instructions for how to complete my medical clearances, register for my Peace Corps Passport and Visa, and a request for my aspiration statement and updated resume.  It's safe to say that this was of the most overwhelming emails thus far

February 27, 2013: Sent updated resume and aspiration statement to the country desk

March 21, 2013: Mailed my current passport and Peace Corps passport application to Headquarters.    While the government typically doesn't allow citizens to have more than one valid passport, Peace Corps volunteers are an exception as we will carry both our personal passport and a Peace Corps passport (diplomatic immunity not included).  As the Peace Corps passport must be returned within two weeks of our close of service, we can then use our personal passport if we plan on traveling before returning to the United States. Thankfully, Panama does not require me to get a visa.

March 28, 2013: Dentist appointment.  I received a clean bill of health but had to have 18 X-Rays done.  The Peace Corps should have no question about my teeth after that...

March 28, 2013: Received a placement questionnaire via email that will be used (I believe) to place incoming volunteers into the homestays we will be living with during training.  The answers to these questions will also be taken into consideration when determining our final placement- which we won't know until well into training.

March 29, 2013: Physical Exam.  In addition to ensuring that every square inch of my body was healthy and shouldn't give out over the next several years, I had to have blood work (and she missed!), three immunizations, and a Tb test.  Since my doctor's office doesn't carry all required immunizations, I have more to come.  Great.

March 30, 2013: Returned placement questionnaire.  There were actually questions like, "How concerned are you that your village may only be reached by a three hour hike?  What about only by canoe?"  I did tell myself I was signing up for a challenge...

April 3, 2013: I head to the Health Department to get my Yellow Fever and Polio immunizations.  At least these sound cool.

Mid April, 2013: Spent a few days going back and forth with my Pre-service nurse about whether or not I needed to download a form I had already submitted, only to re-upload it to Peace Corps (who already had the form!)  ...  The answer was yes, but heck if I know why.

April 27, 2013: All medical and dental tasks completed

April 29, 2013: Final Medical and Dental Clearances!!

I'll continue to update this timeline until my staging date: June 18, 2013

Monday, February 25, 2013

I'm moving to Panamá.

It's official.  Nine months, an unbelievable volume of paperwork, and a 16-page job description later, I accepted a position as a Sustainable Agricultural Systems Extension Agent for the Peace Corps in Panamá.


Globe image via

Even though I've been in the application process for close to a year, I'm still wrapping my head around the reality of the events that are going to be unfolding in the next few months.  I'll be moving to Panamá on June 19 and after nine weeks of training I will be assigned to a rural community that will become my home for the next two years.  

As my position will encompass a lot, what I do on a day-to-day basis could vary widely from education on agricultural best practices to business education and farm management.  A large number of volunteers also work to facilitate increased production and international trade with coffee and/or cacao plantations.  Chocolate and coffee: two of my favorite things.  Could there be a better fit?!

Unlike many current and future volunteers, I never planned on serving in the Peace Corps.  It always seemed like an incredible thing for someone to do, but when I thought about my career path it just didn't seem to mesh.  Then, one day this past summer I outlined everything I wanted in a job (similar to this post) and it just clicked.  Travel, education, business related careers, cultural diversity, and philanthropy- the Peace Corps had it all.  Two days later, my application was submitted and something just told me that it was right.  

Now, as I begin preparations to move to Panamá, I am so unbelievably excited and honored to begin this chapter of my life.  As the Peace Corps says, this is the hardest job you'll ever love.


Monday, February 18, 2013

A Capital Summer: Eastern Market

One of the things I miss most about Europe is the popularity of open air markets throughout the year.  I think it's so neat that you can find such a range of food and products in one location, and in many cases even strike up a conversation with the producer.  

Sunday, February 17, 2013

How to Replace Your Passport in Less than a Day

One of the biggest travel mistakes I've ever made was realizing my passport was lost less than two weeks before I was scheduled to leave the country.  Cue a crazy mania brought on by the fear that my trip was going to be over before it even started.  

After hours of google searching, I was convinced that the only way to get my passport in a week would be to pay a third party sourcing company outrageous fees upwards of $500.  Thankfully, I found a better and cheaper way to get my passport in a hurry. 

There are twenty five Passport Agencies scattered throughout the country.  These agencies print passports on site, meaning that if you have a morning appointment, your passport will be ready for pickup in just a few hours.  

Although you'll want to visit the closest office to your current location, you might also want to take into consideration which office will be most convenient in the long run.  Instead of visiting the Washington, D.C. location, a notably busy office, I chose to drive forty minutes farther in order to go through the agency in Philadelphia.  

Preparation is key for the process to go smoothly, so you will want to be absolutely sure that you gather all necessary documents ahead of time.  
To replace my missing passport, I needed the following items:

  1. Form DS-11, Application for a US Passport
  2. Evidence of US Citizenship- in my case it was a certified birth certificate *Copies are allowed*
  3. Identification- I used a Driver's License
  4. Since I was using an out-of-state driver's license, I also needed a form of secondary ID like a credit card, social security card, or employee ID
  5. Color photocopies of BOTH front and back of your primary and secondary ID
  6. Proof of international travel in less than two weeks
  7. Passport Photos
  8. Cash or credit card to pay the fee
I was nervous about how high the cost would be, but the cost is actually nearly the same as the expedited passport service which takes up to three weeks.  The cost to replace my lost passport was $195.00

You absolutely MUST make an appointment and arrive at least fifteen minutes early in order to get through security and double check that you have all of the paperwork completed.  After a very quick appointment with agency personnel, you'll be given pick-up time a few hours later.  In order to ensure that you have same day pick-up, take the earliest appointment available.  

Since you cannot use electronics in the waiting area, make the most of your visit to whatever location you choose and visit a few of the local sightseeing locations and restaurants...  Or you can nap in your car.  I chose both; Hey, it was an early morning. 

Make sure you're prepared for your visit!  Carefully check details at the government website, here.  If in doubt, choose caution and call for more information.  

Saturday, February 16, 2013

A Capital Summer: My Favorite Monuments

Snowy, cold days in Pittsburgh have got me reminiscing about the long days of summer, which might as well be a world away!  So, over the next few days I'll be sharing some of my favorite spots in the city I spent this past summer. 

In a "One door closes and another door opens" scenario, I wasn't initially selected for my dream internship in New York City but ended up finding an equally awesome opportunity in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C. 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Blog Renovations

Hello everyone!  I'm working on changing the layout and features of my blog, but it's taking a little longer than I expected.  Please pardon my mess as I get everything sorted out :)

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


I could barely contain my excitement as I flew through page after page of extended job applications and submitted carefully formatted résumés and cover letters I spent much too long on.  I was mentally prepared for a long process, as I had heard time and time again how long it can take to get your first real job, and I was ready for it... I thought.  

The problem with my job search though, was that I have incredibly high expectations.  {See this post for more on that} I know that I likely won't start out in a dream job per say, but I refuse to spend over forty hours a week working for a company or organization I'm not passionate about.  Needless to say, this has narrowed the potential employers by quite a bit and I honestly do not have any "safe" applications out there.  I want need my work to matter, and even if I hate jumping through hoop after hoop and waiting for applications to process and positions to be awarded, here I am, jumping and waiting. 

It's now been nearly nine months since I began my first application, which is still processing by the way.  However, every time I try to tell myself that nine months really isn't that long to wait, I remember that at this point a baby could have been born.  That's a long time, folks.  

From what I understand, I could receive the big news anytime from now until June.  Though I'm pretty sure knowing what day I'm counting down to would help a little bit, this excitement for the unknown has really kept me going throughout the past few weeks.  I'm constantly scanning my email, checking online forums, and even calling my dad to check on the mail at home.  I'm enjoying my last semester at school so much, but boy will I be happy to start planning my future.  
Excited employee-to-be, right here.  Feel free to hire me at any point now.  

I know I'm not the only one whose gone through a tough waiting game.  What exciting things have you been waiting for?

Friday, February 8, 2013

A New York Weekend

In addition to the conference, I had a few days to explore New York City this past weekend.  Having only been in the city for a matter of hours before this weekend, it was a great experience.  

For some reason, I never expected to like New York.  Considering that I like so many other large cities and metropolitan areas, I'm really not sure why NYC was shoved so far down on my list, but nonetheless, it was.  Luckily, one of my roommates interned for VH1 in the city this past summer and was a pretty good tour guide for the weekend.  

If you knew me or my friends, it would be no surprise that most of the stops revolved around food.  If we had a little more time (and money...) I'm sure shopping would have been more of a priority, but I'm so glad we got to experience some of the tastes of the city.  To me food is a very big indicator of local culture- even in the United States- and I loved the variety in the Big Apple!  

From frozen hot chocolates at Serendipity 3 and cupcakes from Crumbs to canolis in Little Italy and brunch in Manhattan, we got a pretty good food tour... of the sweets at least.  

I would love to go back to the city and pick up where we left off.  Watching a life taping of SNL is definitely on my to-do list as well!  What recommendations do you have for making the most of NYC?

A peanut butter frozen hot chocolate from Serendipity 3.  These sweets are definitely meant to be shared by at least two people.  

P.S.  Although I don't have any photos, Nice Work if You Can Get It is a great Broadway show, and with student rush tickets for only $37.50, it's a good deal too!  

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Columbia Women in Business Conference

This past weekend 40 students from our school's Women in Business club made the trek to New York City to attend the Columbia Women in Business Conference.  Even though I had already heard great things about the conference, it still managed to blow me away.  

After checking in and getting a little too excited about our filled to the brim gift bags (it's the little things), we attended three breakout sessions.  I chose to attend Social Impact Investing: Doing Good by Doing Well, You the Brand, and  Climbing the Corporate Ladder: Moving from Associate to Manager.  

Each session was led by a panel of very accomplished women who were nothing short of inspiring.  Young, old, American, international, single, married... Every woman worked so hard to get where she is now and I loved hearing their stories of success.  

Our keynote speaker was none other than the famed fashion designer, Diane von Furstenberg.  I had no idea about the many career struggles she went through, but to hear them first hand really proved that you always have the power to design your own future.  

My favorite part of the event was the opportunity to get to know some of the women that I was so incredibly impressed by.  Both during lunch and the reception hour afterwards I was able to speak with the type of people whose LinkedIn profiles I save for inspiration.  One woman decided that she wanted put her focus on her family... Did she drop out of the workplace to become a stay-at-home mom (which is completely admirable by itself, by the way)?  No.  She started her own business that has since been featured on CBS, CNBC, Forbes, and the NY Times! 

Though graduate school had only grazed my radar for future potential, Columbia drew me in.  The professionalism and accomplishments of the students and alumni, far too many to list here, and the welcoming and kind spirit of those present at the conference have sparked a desire in me to return to New York in the future.  

A huge thank you goes out to members of the Columbia Women in Business club who worked to organize this event- You all did great!

Diane von Furstenberg

The Women in Business Executive Board from Saint Vincent College- I'm in the red coat!  

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Oh, Tuscany- Part Five.

For my last post on Tuscany, I wanted to talk a little about one of the best parts of the trip- the food and wine.  Before traveling to Italy, I always pictured the food as being classic pizzas, pastas, and warm Italian garlic bread.  While for some regions of the country these foods are definitely specialties, in Tuscany the food was much more diverse (and better!) than a typical Olive Garden meal.