Saturday, June 29, 2013

Today I got a Machete (and Used it to Eat Sugarcane).

Even though I have a business background and will eventually be assigned to a business position here in Panama, I’m part of a larger program called Sustainable Agricultural Systems.  Because 80% of the SAS volunteers will be working specifically with crop production, and the rest of us (5 of the 24 SASers this year) will be working in agri-business, we all have to go through an agricultural training program.

During our tech sessions, we’re learning everything from how to grow tropical crops to how to teach basic business to farmers who might not even be able to read.  


Today was pretty darn cool though, because we just got government issued machetes.  How many people can say that about their job?  Since none of the farmers down here have enough money to buy electric tools or tractors, machetes are used for tons of things like clearing brush, pruning plants, and even cutting wood and food (think full pigs, not bread). 


While we were clearing an area for gardening, we found a sugar cane and got to eat it raw!  In case you’re like me and had never seen a raw sugar cane, it looks kind of similar to bamboo.   We peeled the bark off and then got to eat it.  Imagine really soft wood that’s been soaked in some sort of sweet, sugary water, and you’re probably pretty close to the real thing.  

I knew food was going to be fresh down here, but I didn’t realize how fresh!  Besides the sugar cane, I’ve eaten avocado, bananas, papaya, and mango straight off the tree.  I’ve also had some new vegetables like yucca, otoe, name, and an unnamed vegetable that was as close to a cooked, savory watermelon that I can imagine. 

I’m looking forward to continue this fresh eating trend, especially when I spend next week at a cacao plantation!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

My Panamanian Community


During our 9 weeks of training, the future SAS volunteers are living with homestays in a small Panamanian community about an hour outside of Panama City.  While Americans would definitely categorize this town as “poor,” to Panamanians, this is somewhere around middle class.  Our time here is supposed to help us learn the culture and also to wean us off of some of the “luxuries” that we enjoyed as Americans.

I live in a small concrete house with four generations of women, but I’m not quite sure where the men are.  Though I have my own room due to Peace Corps rules, it’s definitely nothing like what I’m used to.  The windows are just decorative holes in the concrete and the walls are not connected to the ceiling.  Unfortunately, this leads to multiple types of creepy crawlies sharing my space with me at night (think geckos, spiders, and gigantic cockroaches.)  As is normal for the community, we use an outdoor latrine (outhouse) and bathe in a concrete stall using a bowl and buckets of water, which we gather in the morning when the water system works.  We do have electricity, but sometimes it’s off and on. 


I’ve only been here a few days, but it’s already been an eye-opener into the differences between the way we live as Americans and the way many communities in other parts of the world live. Despite their challenges, the people here are happy.  However, happy doesn’t mean complacent.  They know that they don’t have a lot of material possessions and they work incredibly hard for what they have.  When my friend Carter’s host family was welcoming him, they told him that they didn’t have much money, but they did have big hearts. 


I’m so excited to spend the next nine weeks living with and learning from my host family here, and I hope that my experiences here will make the adjustment to living in the campo (countryside) that much easier.  

Saturday, June 22, 2013

My First Days in Panama


After arriving in Panama this past Wednesday, Group 73 moved into a hotel/dorm type of scenario in Ciudad del Saber (City of Knowledge), which is located on the outer skirts of Panama City.  Over the past two days we've had mostly administrative meetings filled with paperwork and meet & greets.  They also had an unannounced blood draw from all of the girls to ensure we aren't pregnant, which nearly sent me into tears since the mere thought of needles can get to me.  One of my new friends distracted me the whole time though, so it wasn't so bad.  

Today we got to spend the day at a Peace Corps site about an hour and a half away from Panama City, and it was awesome.  Jim, the volunteer there, works more on the agriculture side of things than I will be, but he's been incredibly successful with projects in fish tanks, rice tanks, plantains, coffee, composting, and other random vegetables.  

The farmers who work with Jim were with us throughout the day, and you could tell they were so proud of what they have accomplished and so appreciative of Jim's efforts.  The visit made me more excited than ever to to find out which community I'll be working in and get to work!  

Tomorrow we move out of Ciudad del Saber and into our host families' homes in Los Mortales, a rural community outside of Panama City.  Though I'm a little nervous to move in with complete strangers, I'm excited to have a host family to spend time and practice Spanish with.  Hopefully this experience will be as positive as my last one

PCV Jim's house

Coffee trees

So fresh!



These ponds are specially built fish tanks.  They house anywhere from 150-400 Tilapia and Carp and give the farmers both food and fertilizer to use on other crops.



Friday, June 21, 2013


Since I really have no idea how my internet access is going to look over the next few months I'm going to be writing posts whenever I have electricity and then posting when I have internet.  This one was written on June 18.  


After spending most of my last night putting final touches on packing, I woke up around 5 am to say one last goodbye to the farm before catching an early flight to Washington, D.C. for my staging (Staging is a one day pre-departure orientation for future Peace Corps Volunteers.)

Saying goodbye was rough, especially when it came time to give the pups one last hug.  Somehow I held it together, but I’m sure it’ll come out over the next few weeks. 


Then my family all came to the airport to see me off, which added a whole new emotional moment (but I held it together again!)   After purchasing some last minute host family gifts from the airport store, I had a pretty uneventful flight.  Since I had a few hours in between my arrival in DC and my registration for Staging, I made my way to the National 4-H Center in Chevy Chase, MD to have a quick meet up with my co-workers from last summer.  It was so nice to see some friendly faces after my hectic morning! 


Staging was from 12 -7 p.m. on Tuesday and consisted of ice-breakers and Peace Corps related activities/assignments.  Though none of the information was new to me, it was really cool to finally meet the 48 other people I’ll be spending the next two years training and working with. 

We make up Panama Group 73 (We’re the 73rd set of volunteers to be sent to Panama) and we’re divided up in between my sector of Sustainable Agricultural Systems, SAS, and Environmental Health, EH. 

Though I had met some of the people online through our facebook group, it’s good to finally put a real person to the profile picture.  I’m still meeting everyone, but I can’t believe how incredibly nice, intelligent, diverse, and fun our group already is!   After staging was over we headed out for one last dinner on the town and are now turning in for a quick nap before checking out of our hotel at 2 am.  2 AM!!  Our flight leaves at 6:30, and after a brief layover in Miami we’ll be arriving in Panama City at 11:30 a.m. tomorrow morning!

P.S.  Here's a photo of just some of the bags... we had to get two busses just to accommodate them all!

Thank you all for your thoughts and prayers; please keep ‘em coming!  

Thursday, June 20, 2013

While I still have another post to write in my internship mini-series, I'm taking a little break to write about Panama, especially since I'm only going to have internet for a few more days.

But since it's still pretty relevant, I wanted to share this article that some incredibly sweet co-workers at Clelian Heights wrote about my recent internship with them.  The newsletter is pretty long, but my section is on pages 15 and 16.

I can't thank the wonderful people at Clelian enough for allowing me to be a part of their community, and I strongly encourage any internship seekers out there to consider non-profit options.  As per my experience, the people are incredible to work with and truly want to help you learn and better yourself.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Things I'm Going to Miss

I'm in Panama!  Details to come, but before jumping into that I wanted to share a quick post I wrote a few days ago.  There are a lot of people and things that it's been hard to say goodbye to, but I am so incredibly excited to be here and cannot wait to begin my Panamanian life!

My Friends and Family.



I am so blessed to have incredible friends and family who love and support me (Sorry to those of you not in the photos- there were too many to fit!) and I will miss them terribly.  I can't wait to share my adventures with them, especially the ones that are heading south to visit! Better start practicing your Spanish, mis amigos.   

My Dogs.


I was raised in a dog loving family, and it's hard for me to imagine life without one of our furry, fun loving companions by my side.  Since two of our three dogs are in their golden years, this goodbye is going to be especially hard.  When thinking about saying goodbye to them the other day, I actually started to tear up.  And yes, I will definitely be that volunteer- the one that constantly adopts the strays.  Panamanian pups, I'm coming for you!


I love having the freedom to go where I want, when I want, and I especially love my car.  Since we're not allowed to drive any vehicles while serving in Panama, it'll likely be two years until the next time I can pick up the keys and go for a drive.  

The Ability to Access Any Type of Food I Want.
Egyptian, Chick-fil-a, homemade cheesecake... ahh.  I'm definitely going to miss the variety of foods that are easily accessible in America, but I am looking forward to trying out some new ones.  I'm making it a personal goal to never say no to a food I haven't tried, but a current volunteer warned me that that goal would probably change when my village serves chicken feet.  yum.  


I love everything about fall- colorful leaves, perfect weather, seasonal foods, so knowing that I won't see it again until 2015 is a little sad.  But hey, at least I get to live in the tropics for the next 2 and a half years.


Hike Field

During high school I couldn't wait to get out of Tennessee, but as much as I love traveling and new places, I just really, really love the Volunteer state.  We have incredible natural resources, good food, sweet people, and overall pretty good weather.  Tennessee just has such a balance, and that's something I'm definitely going to miss.  But hey, Panama is still looking pretty dang awesome.  

Thursday, June 13, 2013

How to Get the Most out of your Internship

Since simply adding another line on your resume should never, ever be the point of an internship, it's important to make sure you're getting the most out of your experience.  

Outline Your Goals and Share Them With Your Boss.  

Before you even start your new job, make a list of the things you would like to do and learn during your internship.  Bring your list to work on the first day and talk with your boss about what's reasonable for both of you.  While designing your own marketing campaign for a major client probably isn't going to work out, chances are your boss will give you ownership on a smaller scale project.  Getting on the same page with your boss on Day 1 ensures that you won't have any mid-summer meltdowns about the point of your internship.  

Never Act too Good for an Assignment.  

Whether you're filing papers or working on a major presentation, be sure to put the same work ethic and enthusiasm into each assignment.  As the lowest on the totem pole, chances are you're going to be asked to do some pretty menial tasks, but showing that you're not to good for the small stuff will likely to help you earn the bigger assignments too.  

Always Ask for and Gratefully Accept Feedback.

The biggest reason you're an intern is to learn and there is no better way to do that than to hear feedback from your boss(es) and co-workers.  During periodic performance reviews and after every major project I asked the people I worked with to let me know what I did well and what I could improve on.  Remember that constructive criticism is just that- constructive.  Don't take it personally and use it to make yourself a better employee.  

Have a Positive Exit.  

Though it's easy to do, do not let yourself slack towards the end of your internship.  Also, while Thank You cards are a must for everyone you directly worked with, consider bringing in something for the entire department.  Depending on office preferences, I've brought in a cookie cake, box of bagels and toppings, and ingredients for homemade parfaits.  Finishing strong ensures that your coworkers and supervisors will be likely to write positive recommendation letters and help you out in any way they can.  

Use Your Experience to Help You Land Your Next Job.  

More on this topic in my next blog, "Internships Keep on Giving: Using your Experience to Advance your Career."

Have internship questions?  Send them to me (!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Finding Your (Nearly) Perfect Internship

With so many advice about finding your dream internship floating around the web, I wanted to share my own experiences and why I think there's no way you can or should start out with a "dream" internship.  

Be Realistic.  

If you've only ever worked as a fast food cashier, chances are you're not going to swoop in and get a fashion marketing position in NYC.  Understand that you'll need to start somewhere, so start interning early (think freshman year of college) in whatever position you can get good, related experience.  

Perhaps most importantly, do NOT get hung up on the job title.  One of my best "internships" was as a student assistant in the Tennessee 4-H Office.  My boss, after seeing how driven I was, agreed to let me build a social media outreach program for the entire state.  Once he saw how successful it was, he even took my work across the state and trained local employees on the same techniques I had taught him.  All that from what looked like a summer secretarial job!  

Gain Experience by Looking Outside the Box 

Not every internship is going to be packaged into a nice little paid position and advertised on every major outlet.  To give yourself a little direction, try what I did: 

1. Define your end goal.  As a freshman mine was to work in fashion marketing
2. Outline the qualifications you already have.  Mine were working in retail and winning numerous awards from DECA (a marketing association for high school students) and 4-H (a youth development).
3. Make a list of local companies that are related to your end goal.  For me this was shopping malls and boutiques.
4. Reach out to the companies on your list and ask for the opportunity to gain experience.  This might mean a regular part/full time job, job shadowing, or, ideally, an internship.  Thanks to this (and some help from my school's career counselor) I got a retail marketing internship with Simon Malls in my hometown (which later opened the door for other great opportunities!)

After Building up Your RĂ©sume, Focus on those "Dream" Jobs.  

Once I had several local internships under my belt, I made a personal goal to spend the summer before my senior year interning with a recognizable company in a major city.  Armed with experience, great recommendation letters, and a beefed up online presence, I applied to about 50 positions all over the country and received five phone interviews, three in-person interviews, and three final offers.  I included both "reach" and "fit" positions and refused to apply to anything that I wasn't going to love and learn from.  

Who you know and how well you know the organization definitely matters, so consider looking to regional or national offices for companies you've worked for in the past.  

Understand that No Internship is Going to be Perfect.  

While it's definitely cool to work for a big name company in a great city, I've learned from both my experiences and those of my friends that no internship is perfect.  Every job is going to have it's challenges and obstacles, and all of us are going to have days on the job that we'd rather not be there.  

However, choosing to learn from those times will ultimately make you a better employee and more well-rounded person.

Friday, June 7, 2013


Though I'm obviously no expert on careers, there is one thing I've noticed that really puts candidates on the right track for success: Internships.  I've learned countless lessons in my 7-time post as intern, and I’ll be sharing what I know as part of a blog series on internships.  

Over the next few blogs I’ll be covering the following topics:

  • Finding Your (Nearly) Perfect Internship
  • How to Get the Most out of your Internship
  • Internships Keep on Giving: Using your Experience to Advance your Career

If you have any questions, feel free to submit them to me via comment or email ( and I’ll be happy to help in any way I can! 

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Featured Blogger

I've never been a guest/featured blogger before, so I'm really excited to announce that I now have a young alumni column for my alma mater's website!  

I'll be posting articles a few times a month, and I'd love to have you check it out (as would the school's marketing director.)  You can see my Bearcat on the Road column here.  

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Peace Corps Application Essays

During the initial application process (which is basically the longest application of your life), applicants are required to write two essays.  Since reading examples online helped prompt me, I thought I would share mine.

A word of advice- be aware of application deadlines and give yourself plenty of time to work on the essays.  I realized that I really wanted to apply several days before the deadline, so I wrote these in one sitting.   Reading them a full year later, I definitely wish I had more time to dedicate to writing and editing them.  That being said though, essays are only one small part of the application process.  Do your best, but don't stress over them!

Click through to read my Peace Corps Application essays.

Updated Peace Corps Packing List

Since this post continues to get traffic, I've updated it with notes about what I wish I would have packed or ditched.  Good luck to all of you who are preparing to leave!

With the days until my departure flying by and a family vacation scheduled for next week, I figured I better get down to business with my packing.  I’m 99% sure I’ve overpacked and 100% sure I’d rather have more than I need than not enough.  This is two years, people!  Although I’ve heard a ton of my future comrades talk about purchasing stuff once we get there, I’d prefer to just have it with me now.  Either way, we’re going to have to drag it to our assignments in the next few months, but this way I can save some of our precious allowance for other (more fun) things.  

Peace Corps Packing