Hannah Goes Fishing

A Fishing (and more) Blog


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Would You Eat a Stranger’s Leftovers?

Last week I wrote about why we let strangers sleep in our home via the CouchSurfing and Airbnb programs.  To recap, we like to host and surf with these programs because:

1.) We like to participate in the traveler community even when we can’t actively travel ourselves, and
2.) We believe in contributing to a better traveler world based on trust and camaraderie by giving people a cheap or free place to sleep and playing host during their stay.

This month, we have two trips in the works – all part of our master plan to see as much of Europe as possible during our three years here in Norway.  First, we have some friends visiting from the States who want to do a weekend jaunt somewhere. Sweden? Poland (tickets are $21USD!!)? I’ll let you know next week!  Our second trip will be to The Netherlands, where I will be attending a conference and Rob will fly down to meet me so we can check out his old haunts in The Hague and Amsterdam.

While we make an outrageously good living here in Norway given our age and occupations, the high cost of living combined with our savings goals mean that we still need to travel on a budget.  Being the money grubber that I am, I want that budget to be as small as possible.  Thus, we’ve been exploring options for how to have the most ‘local’ experience possible without blowing through our cash.  To us, traveling like locals is paramount to the sort of traveling experience we desire.

So, this week I’m giving you a run down of some of the ‘communities’ popping up all over the world that let travelers eat, sleep, and be entertained like a local.

Eats
We love to check out the local food in a new place, but sometimes it’s hard to get far enough away from the typical tourist fare to enjoy something local, authentic, and easy on your budget.  It can also be lonely to eat by yourself if you’re traveling alone, or know what’s worth your time if you’re facing a huge menu all in a foreign language. 

Enter options like Bookalokal, VizEat, EatWith, and (perhaps my favorite) LeftoverSwap. These sites hook travelers up with locals who like to cook and host gatherings where travelers can book a seat and take part of a set menu meal. Similar to Airbnb but for food, Bookalokal, VizEat, and EatWith all allow you to search by meal preferences, times, locations, and prices to find an appealing menu and host where you can share a meal. While most meals offered aren’t what I would call super budget friendly, they do offer a great way to taste local, home cooked meals for much cheaper than you’d find at a restaurant.

LeftoverSwap, in a similar vein, is a downloadable app that lets people post their leftovers and travelers can claim them and pick them up.  The site is based around the idea of reducing food waste and allowing travelers to eat for cheap or free.  While we have yet to try any of these sites, I’m looking forward to picking up our first set of leftovers while on the road.

Screenshot from the Left Over Swap page. Would you eat a stranger's leftovers?

Screenshot from the Left Over Swap page. Would you eat a stranger’s leftovers?

Sleep
At this point, hotels are seriously old news. There are so many options for accommodations now that are cheaper, friendly, and a neat way to sleep like an actual local. You know I’m already a big fan of CouchSurfing and Airbnb, but did you know that there are many other sites that help connect travelers with people who want to rent a room, let you crash on their couch, or housesit their home?

Check out these sites:

Wimdu
Sort of like a lower-tech version of Airbnb, Wimdu is very popular in Europe for finding local accommodation. We have yet to use it, but we’ve heard good things from people who have used it while traveling in European cities.

Warmshowers
Warm Showers is the CouchSurfing for traveling cyclists (and yes, I giggled at the name too). We learned about Warm Showers while we were hosting a cyclist through CouchSurfing who is currently on his 4th year (!) of traveling the world on a bicycle. Warm Showers, it should be noted, is not intended to be for people riding to raise money, big groups of travelers, or really anything other than long-term touring bicyclists. That being said, we’ve heard nothing but good things about the community of hosts and cyclist travelers.

Roomorama
Another version of Airbnb, Roomorama is available all over the world. We haven’t used this site yet, but we plan to list our own space on it to improve the number of bookings we get for our spare room.

Mindmyhouse
A subscription-based service, Mindmyhouse brings together housesitters (who pay $20USD per year to use the site) and home owners (free).  We haven’t used this site yet, but we plan to for some of our longer-term travel plans in the future.

HouseCarers
A slightly more expensive version of Mindmyhouse, HouseCarers is a similar site that matches house sitters to homeowners. House sitters pay a subscription fee of $55USD per year.

LuxuryHousesitting
With a more mid-range subscription fee for house sitters ($25USD per year), this site is pretty much the same as the other house sitting options, though perhaps their site is a little less functional.

Of course, that’s far from all of the options for local food, drink, and entertainment.  But, I hate to re-invent the wheel when Matt from Nomadic Matt has already so thoroughly listed most of these sites. You can check out the options here, where he talks about monastery stays, farmstays, homestays, WWOOFing, and even resources for seniors!

I’ll be adding most of these sites to my Volunteer tab, where I’m trying to provide a detailed go-to place for travelers to expand their horizons for food, accommodation, and adventure. But, I know there’s more out there! So, if you know of a site I missed, tell me about it in the comments.


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Why I Let Strangers Sleep in My Home

Last week a woman I had never met before asked to stay the night in my home, and I said yes.

For many Americans, this is a sentence straight out of the “how to avoid ax murderers” handbook. For Rob and I, this is a request we receive almost weekly, and we usually throw out the welcome mat and put fresh sheets on the guest bed.

We are members of the CouchSurfing and Airbnb community and have signed up to host people out of our spare bedroom (and sometimes living room floor). Through these two communities, we receive an average of one request a week for someone to stay with us. With CouchSurfing, people stay for free and usually only for a night or two. With Airbnb, people rent our room for us, usually also for a night or two.  Both systems have their pros and cons, and while I’ve been hosting and surfing with CouchSurfing for years, Rob is new to both systems and so we’ve been navigating the adventure of having total strangers stay with us while balancing two schedules and two comfort levels.  So, why do we do it?

In short: because when life doesn’t give us much time to travel and see the world (as we are now with work and school), both communities give us a chance to invite the world to come to us. We regularly meet new people, hear about their adventures, and are inspired to visit new places and do things we may not have considered before. For instance, back when I was living in Fairbanks I hosted Alex Chacón, who is a world-class motorcyclist and friend. He stayed with us while biking all the way to the north slope after having started in South America. His adventures inspire me still, and I feel lucky that the week he stayed with us created a connection that will keep us in touch long after he wheeled out of our driveway.

But hosting people also fulfills another need for us. We are people who, by our nature and by choice, have faith in others and like to believe in a community of trust and goodness in others when we travel. We are, of course, not always rewarded for this faith, but more often than not we are. CouchSurfing depends tremendously on trust within the CS community (as does Airbnb to a large extent) since you are welcoming and being welcomed into the homes of complete strangers. By participating we get a chance to test our faith in the goodness of others and remain a part of the travel magic that makes traveling special. Plus, we build a network of people across the world who vouch for us on our CouchSurfing profile, and may house us one day should we ever visit their community. Hosting feels like building great karma, and surfing feels like slowly spending that karma out across the world.

That is the sort of world we want to live in – where people trust and are trusted by others, for the better – and hosting and surfing allows us to participate in creating that world, one guest and host at a time.

Of course, CouchSufing has its drawbacks. Some people aren’t great guests. Maybe they don’t communicate well, maybe they are loud, maybe they are messy, or maybe they aren’t very self-sufficient and expect you to play tour guide as well as host. Some people are hosting for the wrong reasons and don’t understand that trust and safety are what make CouchSurfing special. I’ve heard horror stories from surfers and terrible things have happened to both hosts and guests, but these events are rare.  There is also a review system that allows guests and hosts to talk about their experience, and these reviews are public to anyone who views a guest or host profile.  Because of the transparency encouraged through the review system, most potential problems that can be circumvented through experience and learning to use the CouchSurfing system well, but not every guest (or host) is perfect. That is why we also like using Airbnb.

Airbnb allows hosts to act as mini-hotels and charge guests to stay with them, most of the time for cheaper than you’d find through hotel. It’s also a nice alternative to traditional lodging since many times guests can access a kitchen, host large groups in one space, or get to know a local during their stay. When we first started using Airbnb to rent our little room, we felt weird charging money for the same room people stay in for free when the CouchSurf with us. But, after our first guest, we realized that sometimes it’s just easier for guests to have the safety and afforded distance that comes with a financial transaction.  When people rent our room through Airbnb, we feel less obligated to host them and they feel less obligated to have to interact with us if all they want is a space to sleep.  With CouchSurfing, there is much more of a human exchange, perhaps in place of a financial one, and there are more details to figure out: do we feed them? Should they tell us where they are all the time? Airbnb and the financial transaction, even if it’s small, helps remove some of that ambiguity and if a guest is less-than-great, we feel less put upon since there is a financial reward for our time and energy.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with CouchSurfing or Airbnb, let me give you a little run down.

How do CouchSurfing and Airbnb work?
Both CouchSurfing and Airbnb are free to use. Users make a profile and either offer to host or can look at people who are hosting in whatever community they are traveling to.

Screen shot of my CouchSurfing profile. This is what people see when they are considering requesting to stay with us.

Screen shot of my CouchSurfing profile. This is what people see when they are considering requesting to stay with us.

You can look at a host’s profile, read their reviews, and then request to stay with them. With Airbnb, there is a price associated with your stay that guests can view before they make their request. Typically, hosts in both programs will describe the accommodation, and what you can expect as a guest. After the request is made, the host will either approve or deny the request, and then it is up to both guest and host to arrange for entry to the house, a meet up, or whatever arrangements both parties feel comfortable with.

When I’m looking for host or accepting a guest, I read their reviews carefully and look for how long they’ve been using CouchSurfing or Airbnb. With CouchSurfing especially, I want to know if they have been surfing for a while and understand how the community works, or if they’re just looking for free housing. Reviews can tell a lot about a person.

Reviews can tell both hosts and guests a lot about the person they're going to interact with and the sleeping space.

Reviews can tell both hosts and guests a lot about the person they’re going to interact with and the sleeping space.

A good review will talk a bit about the person’s personality and demeanor. It will also mention how they behaved as a guest, and if the host enjoyed having them there. Conversely, if I’m looking for a host, previous guests might comment on the size of the space, what amenities were available, and how the host behaved.  Over time, users of both programs learn to read between the lines in reviews.

A cute space? It might be really small.
A host had an eclectic home? They might have some weird stuff hanging on the walls.
A surfer has lots of stories to tell? They might never, ever shut up about their travels (I had this one).

Both guests and hosts can leave negative reviews, but this is considered a very serious action and CouchSurfing admin typically gets involved to mediate the disagreement. As I mentioned above, reviews are a way to talk about your experience and let future hosts/guests know what to expect. It’s part of the safety system CouchSurfing and Airbnb have put in place to keep people safe.

As a woman, I especially pay attention to female reviews and try to stay with female hosts if I’m traveling alone. As with anything involving strangers, every precaution in the world can’t help you if your host or guest has poor intentions. So, safety is important and a host/guest should feel comfortable asking someone to leave or refusing to host/stay with someone if they’re not comfortable with the situation.  Both reviews and the verification system in both communities help me make decisions about who to stay with and who to host. So far, I’ve yet to have an uncomfortable or unsafe situation, though I’ve definitely had my share of experiences that make great stories later.

While neither CouchSurfing nor Airbnb are for everyone, more and more people are using and enjoying these communities every year. For travelers, it’s a great way to travel on the cheap and meet locals. For hosts, it’s a cool way to meet new people and maybe make a little extra money on the side. I highly recommend both. Next week, we’re hosting an English gentleman who has been biking around the world for the last four years! You can check him out at his website. We’re very excited to meet him!

So, check it out, and maybe next time you’re on the road you’ll consider letting a stranger show you a whole new side to travel.


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Five Things I Love About Norway

We have officially touched down in Norway and have been here just over a week.  It’s been a whirlwind of new languages, jet lag, and really expensive coffee.  But, so far Norway is slowly stealing our hjerter (hearts).

This week, here are five things I’m loving about my new home country

1. Public Transportation
All week, we’ve been getting around via bus, tram, subway, and train. It has been nothing short of efficient, timely, and simple. While not as cheap as we’d like it to be, it’s pretty great to be able to travel nearly anywhere in the greater Oslo area with ease. One ticket is usable on any form of transportation within the area it covers, and the stations and trains are clean and orderly. It’s almost weird how quiet and tidy everything is. Like a post-apocalyptic city full of extremely polite and efficient people.

2. The People
If you consult the All Knowing Internet, Norwegians are sometimes described as cold or unfriendly. We’ve found neither to be the case. Instead, Norwegians are a very straightforward, pragmatic, and efficient. They are privacy-oriented people, and don’t need a lot of extra explanation, emotion, or…anything, apparently, to get on with their day. For me – champion of face-value emotions – this is the perfect culture. I can totally trust that when someone says something to me, they meant exactly that. It’s like interpersonal skill Heaven for me!

Plus, Norwegians are really nice. Since we’ve arrived, we’ve been hosted by Couch Surfing hosts, met at the airport, toured all over Oslo, and driven three hours (for free!) to our new apartment by our landlord, as a few examples. I’ve also accosted not a few people in the grocery store to get help translating product names (is this milk? what kind of milk?), and not a single person has been anything less than tremendously helpful.

3. The Government Efficiency
I know. No one, in the history of man, has ever written positive things about a government’s efficiency.  Okay, well maybe there is some precedent to this, but surely not many.  In our experience, Norway’s government has set new and lofty standards for what can be accomplished when everyone is prepared and on time. Case in point: I had an appointment at 1:00pm on Thursday of this week to submit my immigration paperwork and (hopefully) be approved for a work permit. I arrived at the appointed place and time at 12:15pm, because I am inordinately fond of being early to government functions. At 12:20pm, they started calling the names of everyone who had a 12:15pm appointment. When they finished, they moved on to the 12:30pm slot. After that, the 12:45pm slot, continuing to repeat the names of people who hadn’t been present earlier.  I had my 1 o’clock appointment at 12:26pm, and was finished by 12:31pm. They took my paperwork, printed me a missing form when I realized I had presented the wrong one, and even gave me an email address to which I could send said missing form so I wouldn’t have to make a second trip to their office.

They even had a coffee shop in the lobby area. If that isn’t efficiency, I don’t know what is.

4. The Weather
This isn’t something people normally brag about in Norway, but so far we’ve thoroughly enjoyed the moderate temperatures both during rain or sun. We are both lovers of rain and grey, which we’ve had plenty of here. But, we also like the occasionally sunny day, as apparently so do all Norwegians. Any time there’s sun, Norwegians treat it as a reason for national celebration.

5. The Lifestyle
In short, Norwegians really have got it together when it comes to how to run a society. Sure, I’m sure there are problems, but as a newcomer to this country it all seems pretty great. Women get all kinds of paid maternity leave, and new dads get some too! The work day ends at 3:00pm in the summer. Nearly everyone recycles, and it’s difficult to go anywhere without finding places to return your recyclable materials. There is essentially no litter anywhere, and green space has been incorporated nearly everywhere. People love to be outside. You are offered coffee at nearly every social function. FIVE WEEKS of vacation every year for most people!

The list goes on and on. In short, people treat their lives as if they are meant to be lived and enjoyed. We are learning that, even with high taxes and what some may consider to be “restrictive” laws (like Norwegian gun control), it’s very easy to enjoy life in a place where life is all about enjoyment.

‘Til next time, farvel (goodbye)!


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When You Try to Come Home Again

They say you can’t go home again, and I’ve never believed this to be true. Coming home from Thailand, from Nepal, from India, and even from bush Alaska, I always felt that Alaska was my true home and Homer was where my heart was.

This time, it’s a little different.

Rob and I returned to Alaska at the end of June, finished with our Peace Corps service and ready to re-enter the world of culinary delights and customer service. We immediately set about stuffing ourselves with every saucy plate of spicy, flavorful goodness we could find. We drove – for the fun of it. We watched TV. We frolicked through the internet and watched cat videos and Netflix and read every interesting article right when it was published. We drank (and drank, and drank) good beers and ciders (which seem to have become more popular while we were away). We rejoiced in pizza with real cheese and a fiesta of toppings. Later, we enjoyed quality bathroom time that didn’t involve squatting over a hole and wasn’t a mystery in digestive intolerance. It was glorious. It felt like home.

Rob and BB reunited!

Rob and BB reunited!

Slowly, though, we began to notice all the little things about America that we had forgotten about. Things that we didn’t miss while we were away, and were suddenly brought into stark relief now that we were home and amongst our fellow Americans.

Americans, we had forgotten, are really wrapped up in the little stuff. We care a lot about really trivial things. We have, in my post-Peace Corps opinion, waayy too many choices in most things. We obsess over diets and GMOs and all these other things that, unsurprisingly, are suddenly weird to care about when you’ve been living with people who are excited to have almost any food. We are really into privacy. We like space and ginormous houses. We make a breathtaking amount of trash. Perhaps most surprising/not surprising: we are, as a population, pretty darn fat. We eat an impressive amount of food. I’ve been amazed by portion sizes since coming home, and how rich everything is. And we do this all day, every day (#generalization, but you get the idea).

It’s been culture shock-y to come home. As much as we were sad to leave our Peace Corps service early, Rob and I have both whispered to each other with guilty expressions how glad we were to leave early and have immediate plans for our future rather than finishing our service and having time to “tread water” afterward. I think the transition “home” has been a lot easier than it might have been simply because we have plans, and a place to be. We are transients in America right now, and without even mentioning the pre-election media coverage (or Trump, because #Ijustcan’teven), I feel like that’s exactly how I want to be. America, and even Alaska in some much smaller way, just doesn’t feel like home right now.

You can’t go home again. – Thomas Wolfe

We knew that coming home from Peace Corps would be tough. Nearly every RPCV we’ve ever talked to say the hardest part of Peace Corps service is once it’s finished. The return journey and reintegration into our native culture is harder in many ways, primarily because we no longer have the excuses of language, culture, or nationality to excuse our ignorance.  In Zambia we lived with our heads in the proverbial sand when it came to any world event that didn’t make the BBC evening news. We rarely had contact with live media. Being home, we are bombarded by the news at a nearly constant rate, and it’s almost always stressful, upsetting, or scary. Living in Zambia had its stressors, but nothing like the constant-information age we live in here in the U.S. It’s phenomenal how much there is to read about, to listen to, or to watch, and how little of it actually contains information worth the energy it takes to absorb it. I feel exhausted by everyone speaking in idioms about climate change, the 2016 election, or DeflateGate. I want to scream at everyone, “Pick a topic and give a sh*t about it!”

Thankfully, Rob has A) helped taper down my caffeine intake and B) understands the process of coming home. Being able to relate to each other’s experience as we reintroduce ourselves to The West (and her wicked witches) has been indescribably helpful. I honestly can’t imagine what it’s like to do it alone (experientially speaking). Our first year of marriage is working out to be one for the record books. It’s pretty strange to not learn how your spouse drives until you repatriate rather than how one normally would – on a first date!

That’s not to say we’re not having a great time. As you read this, we’re settling into our new apartment in Lillehammer, Norway after three weeks in Alaska, a week in Florida, and a little over three weeks CO. We’ve had a wonderful time with family, hiking, dog reunions, and sampling all of our favorite foods (over and over and over again).

Rob hiking across Grace Ridge. Kachemak Bay, Alaska.

Rob hiking across Grace Ridge. Kachemak Bay, Alaska.

We’ve fulfilled our edible cravings and have been welcomed into the loving arms of family and friends. It’s been wonderful to come back to our respective stomping grounds and be “home”. But, we’ve both realized that Peace Corps changes something about how one sees the world, and we are slowly accepting that being the global citizens we want to be means that we can’t really ever return to our pre-Peace Corps lives where running water was unremarkable and social equity a given.

It hurts a little, almost like losing a friend. I guess, in a way, we’ve lost that part of ourselves that guided our views of the world pre-Peace Corps. Now, we owe it to ourselves and to those who were part of our service to see it differently. I think our challenge now is to rectify that difference in viewpoint with the relationships and homes we had before all those changes. We are different, and though it’s awkward at first, it’s also okay. That was the point. We didn’t join the Peace Corps to remain the same.

Fortunately, some things don’t change. Family. Great beer. Favorite pets. Best friends. We now appreciate more than ever that the most important things in life don’t have a physical address. They remain with us no matter where we call home.


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What Happens When You Leave the Peace Corps (ET)?

As you know from last week’s post, Rob and I recently early terminated (ET) our service with the Peace Corps. Though many volunteers ET from their service for a huge variety of reasons, it’s a rather mysterious process to those who aren’t on their way out. ET happens differently for each volunteer, but there are a few set of norms. Today, I want to demystify this process (to the extent of our experience).

Here’s what happens when you voluntarily decide to leave the Peace Corps.

Rob and I got notice that I had been offered a PhD position in Norway early this month while we were on vacation with my parents (who were visiting from Alaska!).

After much squealing and excitement, we knew we would have to ET from our service. We were actually really unsure of what to do at this point. We knew that we wanted to spend our last week with my family and then return to our site, but we had also heard that Peace Corps wants to get you out of the country ASAP once you announce your intentions to ET. We reviewed our handbook (the Bible of Peace Corps regulations for PCVs) and decided the best course would be to inform our program manager and go from there.

Our program manager is wonderful and has backed our efforts throughout our service (from net grants to marriages!). He congratulated us on our decision and facilitated passing our intentions to ET on to our Country Director.  From there, we worked with our CD to determine a good time for us to make the transition from site to getting on the plane. For us, we had three major steps:

1. Leave our site in an orderly manner
2. Visit our provincial house and work with our volunteer leader to return Peace Corps-issued items (bikes and our water filter).
3. Travel to Lusaka to complete our medical clearance and administrative clearance with Peace Corps staff.

We chose a busy week to ET where provincial staff were not able to come and get us from our site. So, we had two busy days packing up all our things and giving away everything else (Christmas in July in our village!), and then we had to arrange our own transport to our provincial capital. I think if we had ET’d at a less busy time, Peace Corps would have been willing to come and pick us up.Leaving our village was both really hard, and surprisingly easy. We returned to our village with just three full days to get ourselves ready to go. We knew that our leaving would mean that people would be all over the emotional map. Some people would be very sad to see us leave. Some people might feel betrayed by our departure. Some people might feel happy to see those damn muzungus get out of town. And, as we were dreading, some people might feel that it was free reign on all the stuff in our house. 

So, to negotiate all of that, we told our closest friends and neighbors about our departure. They were sad to see us go, but Zambians also handle departure and loss with grace and aplomb. As the village gossip mill spun wildly over the weekend, people from other villages began arriving at our doorstep to verify the rumors that we were leaving. We had to sadly explain, “Eh mukwai, twapita.” Yes, we are going. It was hard, but the goodbyes and “we hope you returns” from so many people were heartbreakingly wonderful to receive. We hadn’t appreciated that so many people knew us, cared about us, and were sad to see us go. 

Over the weekend, we packed up all our things and began to give away all our household goods. Each of our neighboring families (like Tamar, who you may remember) received a giant bucket and shopping bag full of food items, plastics, and other items difficult to find in the villages. People were very happy to receive goodies, but contrary to our expectations, there was no horde of people waiting to adopt our things. This may sound very negative on our part, but people in the village have long and openly coveted many of our goods and had placed claims on certain items over a year in advance of our original departure. So, knowing that Zambia always wins in the end, we planned for the worst and were delightfully surprised by the sane and sensible departure we had. 

We left the village on a Monday morning thanks in huge part to our missionary friends, Rita and Steve, who went way beyond the call of duty and picked us up with our mountain of junk (where did we even get all this crap?). Our best friends gathered around our hut as I locked the door for the final time. There were big smiles, big hugs, and many hands shaken in a farewell. I exhibited extreme emotional control to not bawl like a child in front of everyone, as Zambians aren’t big on tearful emotional displays (except at funerals, but we were just leaving, not dying). It felt like suddenly our last 16 months of struggle and illness and work and sweat and toe-infesting parasites were suddenly coming down to these few minutes of goodbye. These last few moments with friends whose depth of love and care for us is indescribable. I had a sudden feeling of homelessness as we pulled away and the hut disappeared behind the wall of waving hands and smiling faces. This place had been a home, even if I had never quiet gotten away from the feeling of a being a stranger in the village. And now were were leaving. Yes, for a big, wonderful, fully-funded adventure of my academic dreams, but we were also giving up this dream to do it. Peace Corps and Zambia and all that those things had entailed for us, was over. I know it would have ended 10 months later anyway, but somehow it felt a little harder because were were choosing to end the adventure early. But, that’s the difficulty of decisions.

“We are our choices.”
― Jean-Paul Sartre

After we left our village, we spent one day at our provincial capital handing over our Peace Corps items and buying tickets for the bus to Lusaka the next day. We were lucky to come to the house during our provincial meetings, which meant we were able to say goodbye to all the volunteers in our province. Sometimes you don’t realize the friends you’ve made until it’s time to part. We had some really special goodbyes and got on the bus at 5am the next morning with full hearts (and suitcases).

Our time in Lusaka was surprisingly easy. Peace Corps has a checklist of things you have to complete/write/sign/etc. before you can leave the country. Peace Corps booked us tickets all the way back to Homer, Alaska (where I’m from and Rob had changed his home of record to), and we spent a full day checking out with various administrative folks. We met with our country director, our program manager, and medical. Because we were departing the next day, medical staff didn’t have enough time to complete a physical and so sent us home with lots of vouchers to have our post-Peace Corps medical work done at home. We each wrote a Description of Service (DOS) report that detailed our trainings, project goals, and our actual work as volunteers. This DOS is what will prove our service and act as a “Peace Corps resume” for future employers. We didn’t ask for non-competitive eligibility because we’re not returning to the states for work. I’m not sure if they would have give it to us, but we qualified for it (since we had completed one full year of service prior to our ET) and I’m reasonably certain they would have granted it if we had asked. 

There was a surprising amount of money involved in our departure. We had received our living allowance for July and a payment to attend our provincial meetings, both of which we had to return to Peace Corps (as well as the pro-rated part of our June living allowance that we weren’t using since we were leaving before June 30th). Peace Corps then gave us per diem for being in Lusaka (as is standard PCZambia policy) and “transit money” for our trip home (about $32USD), so there was a lot of money being handed back and forth at the cashier’s office. We were pretty frugal with our living allowance, so we ended up with about 4000 Zambian kwacha (about $550USD) we had previous saved (which we were allowed to keep). So, overall, a pretty nice chunk of cash to go home with. On top of that, all volunteers accrue their readjustment allowance (the money you receive at the end of your Peace Corps service) throughout their service. For us, we received about $4,600USD (each) after 14 months of service and 16 months of being in Zambia. So, financially Peace Corps worked out really well for us and fully-funded our move to Norway and our time back in America visiting family (where we are now). 

A final note on medical: so far we haven’t run into any obstacles in receiving the post-service care Peace Corps promises, but we’ll wait until the final bills have been paid (hopefully in full by Peace Corps) before I breathe a sigh of relief. Because we had recently had our mid-term conference where all volunteers undergo a medical evaluation (including dental), there were some things we didn’t have to do when we arrived home. Sadly, stool samples were not one of those things and so we’re busy collecting three days worth of that before we’re able to turn all our tests in and wait for results (stool samples are important for parasite and ova detection). Bleah. 

Additionally, Peace Corps gives volunteers who ET the same one month of insurance coverage that COSing volunteers receive. So, we’re covered up until the end of this month. Then, we have the option to buy two additional months (it’s about $250USD/person) of coverage. I like this option, but since we’re moving to Norway (hooray socialized medicine!), we won’t have need for additional coverage. 

So, there you have it. That’s what happens (to us, anyway) when you ET from the Peace Corps. Overall, I felt really good about our departure. Peace Corps lets you go pretty easily when you decide you want to leave, and staff are well-trained (in Zambia, anyway) to handle the departure. When we ran into staff in the office and they learned we were ETing, they had obviously been trained not to ask why. We told them, and their faces brightened with happiness for our new opportunity, but it was clear that volunteers are supposed to be treated with discretion and respect for their choice to leave Peace Corps, no matter what the reason may be. There were a few communication problems that created stress over our ET, and I know not all volunteers have had the pleasant experience that we did. But, I hope that this post sheds some light on the process for anyone who is curious.

Last note: if you do plan to ET, I highly recommend not telling Peace Corps until you are absolutely, 100% ready to leave your village/community. We almost didn’t have the opportunity to leave our village gracefully due to some communication problems and some misunderstandings about our intent to leave. This post could have had a really different ending if we hadn’t had a good relationship with Peace Corps administrative staff and were able to work things out with them. So, if you’re ready to leave the Peace Corps, be sure your bags are pretty much packed before you make that phone call.

And to all those who are in the Peace Corps and considering an ET, remember that there is no wrong reason to ET. Life is full of choices, and your service will ultimately be what you bring home with you and the memories you leave in your community. Do what you can to make those memories fond and what you bring home with you luggage, not baggage. Enjoy your service and remember to let it change you, and if it’s time to come home (for whatever reason), be proud of your decision to go in the first place.