Tuesday, July 24, 2007


Well, not too much to report. I leave for staging on the 19th and then for Bolivia a few days later. For now, I'm just trying to stick out the last few days of work, pack, and say my good-byes.

Preparing to leave has led me to think more and more about languages lately. Specifically, I cannot wait to achieve fluency in Spanish. I don’t think it will happen during training, but I hope it happens within the first six months of being in Bolivia. I think most people are too young to appreciate the first language fluency. I’m sure that we think it’s great when it happens, but we’re not quite cognisant at that time so it’s a simple appreciation that is quickly forgotten and taken for granted. Thus, i’m going to focus on subsequent, non-native language fluency.

I've always enjoyed language classes,but that enjoyment pales in comparison to attaining language fluency. I don’t think can be achieved by taking a language class. It’s one thing to be able to piece together sentences, to study vocabulary, and to write and read in another language. When i lived in Germany, I realized that fluency goes way beyond those things. It was fun to be able to listen to my neighbor Florian’s half-mumbled, half-heavily-accented rants, to understand the songs i heard on the radio, and to finally be able to watch even the news in German. The real thrill, however, came in thinking, dreaming, studying, and really getting to know people in German. Basically, I went from learning German to living German.

One of our pre-service learning activities includes this quotation from Nelson Mandela: "If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart."

In Passau, many people wanted to practice their English with me. I probably could have survived the entire six months (perhaps classes would have been more difficult) on English alone. However, no matter in what country we were, I strove to speak the native language. (hmm, maybe not Dutch or Hungarian...heh) Mandela really captures the intent behind that. Words are very mechanical things. We can look at an apple and know that the word for it is apple. But the meaning behind the simple diction is something that is cultivated throughout one's life. All that is built into a word throughout life so when one hears that word later, much more comes to mind than simply an apple. The taste, the smell, maybe memories of orchards or baking apple pie. Communication is so much more than words and i think that fluency entails being comfortable enough in a language that you get past just the words. This brings about much more effective and heartfelt communication. People used to ask why I study languages and I'd always say that there are so many people on this earth that I'd like to be able to communicate with that I cannot now. A common response is that lots of people travel and just speak English. Some people think that because they are at an economic advantage, they can just speak English with everyone. If you have that kind of outlook, you likely aren't going to really get to the heart of those people, even if you can understand each other's words. This is what really attracts me to the Peace Corps; their ability to utilize natives' points of view to really get at the best solution for that particular situation. The ability to be accepted into so many different places is a good step towards building a global community where there is peace among countries while maintaining those countries' individualities. As Mandela says, the first step is speaking to the natives, directly to their hearts and not just their minds.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Invitation to Serve

Dear Sarah,

Congratulations! It is with great pleasure that we invite you to begin training in Bolivia for Peace Corps service. You will be joining thousands of Americans who are building stronger communications around the world. This call to action gives you the opportunity to learn new skills and to find the best in yourself.

David Dauer, VRS/Placement Unit
Dear Peace Corps Invitee:

Congratulations on your invitation to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer. The Peace Corps offers this opportunity only to those who demonstrate a dedication to public service and a willingness to share their skills to help improve the quality of life for people in developing countries.

By living for two years in a different country and culture, Peace Corps Volunteers encounter great challenges and rewards. Many learn a new language and develop long-lasting friendships, while helping individuals use their own skills and resources to pursue a better life for themselves and their families. From agricultural and economic development to educational and health initiatives, your work will contribute significantly to the well-being of many people.

As a Peace Corps Volunteer, you will represent our Nation to those whom you serve. Take this opportunity to build goodwill and to help lay the foundation for a more peaceful world. Upon completing service, I hope that you will share your experiences and insights with your loved ones, friends, and fellow Americans. Your efforts will enhance the understanding of, and foster the appreciation for, other cultures.

Since 1961, more than 162,000 Americans have joined the Peace Corps. Their dedication, idealism, and commitment to helping others have made an enormous difference in countries around the world. I urge you to carry forward this noble American tradition as you answer the call to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

George W. Bush

So there you have it. I received a call last Friday to see if I would be okay with a slight adjustment (more towards IT development) in my area of service. Naturally, the change was fine with me and I was told that my invitation would be mailed out that afternoon. I rushed home with tears of joy and waited for my invitation to come. Monday, I received an invitation for Microenterprise Development: Information Technologies in Bolivia. My staging/orientation is from August 20, 2007- November 9, 2007. I will serve from November 9, 2007- November 13, 2009.

I'm not going to post detailed information about my travel or where I am staying. However, if you want more information on Bolivia, check out these websites:

Peace Corps Bolivia overview

CIA World Factbook- Bolivia

Department of State Bolivia background

Lonely Planet Bolivia guide

If you'd like to read the 100-page country guide that the Peace Corps has provided for me, please email me. I think it offers good information for family and friends, but I am uncomfortable posting it online.