Snail Mail from Cassandra Ernst

Do you like a good story? Here are some snail mail from Cassandra Ernst that give you some insight into her thoughts, her heart, and her very soul.

Going There. Doing That. Already Got the T-Shirt.

Today marks my official first day as a Peace Corps Volunteer trainee. To say that I'm absolutely thrilled would be a gross understatement. This time tomorrow -- well, this time tomorrow, I'll be flying over the Atlantic ocean, hopefully sleeping away any jet lag -- BUT this time tomorrow and another four hours and I'll be stepping on Moroccan land.
The most important part, though, is I got the t-shirt:

 

Every Peace Corps Volunteer Staging is different, but if you want a little idea of what to expect, here's some fast tips:

  • The Peace Corps staging event for Morocco currently takes place in Philadelphia. They want you there by noon for registration. If you're on the west coast of the country (think Indiana, west), there's a good chance that you'll need to fly in the previous day to get there on time. Travel information is communicated about three weeks before staging. Basically, Peace Corps will instruct you to call SATO (contractor Peace Corps uses for travel) and they will set up and pay for your flight. If your flight charges for luggage, Peace Corps will also reimburse your luggage costs, so long as it is in limit for their luggage requirements (two checked bags, under 50 pounds). Be aware that this reimbursement won't occur until you're in country, so plan accordingly. I was lucky and got to fly Southwest, two free checked bags, y'all and free ritz bits cheese crackers. But then I was unlucky in that I forgot to check in, so I was forced to the back of the race and ended up between two men. This was not conducive to my plan to sleep for three and a half hours straight.
     
  • The registration process itself is super easy. You just have to fill out a pre-survey, sign in, receive some documents, and get your student loan information filled out and signed. So long as everything is smooth, it should only take you about ten minutes. Student loans are tricky - so do your research before making any decisions - but I finally consolidated all of my loans - except for my Perkins, as they have their own "perks" - and updated to an income-based repayment plan. Which means that I make so little, that I'll be paying $0 a month. This is primarily helpful because of the Public Servant Loan Forgiveness - by making 120 qualifying payments (or ten years) on loans, I can have the remaining balance forgiven. In order to qualify for the most payments, bring all the necessary forms with you to be signed and mailed.
     
  • After registration, you have some downtime. Maaaake friends. I still have anxiety around meeting peers. But do it anyways, because these people are going to be your family. In my particular Staj (what PC Morocco calls their groups) there are 109 family members--way bigger than most country's cohorts--but the more the merrier!
  • Then comes five hours of Peace Corps training. I was expecting powerpoints, but we had none. So that was a nice surprise. Although, I do love me a nicely laid out powerpoint -- not as much as the perfect Excel file mind you (remind me to post a version of my Excel packing list. It makes my heart joyfully palpate just thinking about it.) The training primarily consisted of ice-breakers (you'd think for as long as I have been working with young people, I would have gotten used to ice-breakers, but they're still just as awkward as ever), core expectations (know them, love them, and maybe even make a skit about them), and basic safety and security issues. We also went over our aspirations and anxieties about going to Morocco and some logistics about how to prepare for tomorrow. It was a straight-forward, well put-together training that allowed for a lot of interaction. The only real thing I would have changed is that it would have been nice to have one of our facilitators have been to Morocco, for those Morocco-specific questions. But we will get plenty of that over the next few weeks, so I'm not very concerned.
     
  • Peace Corps gives you plenty of walking around money for staging and to get you to Morocco. The best thing to do is to save most of it, as you will love that extra cash once you're in country.

    I bought a steak.
     
  • Tomorrow will come with its own set of rules, but we plan to hop on a bus at noon for a 8:30 p.m. flight in New York. Our bags will get yarn, as per Peace Corps tradition, and we will finally be handed our passports when we're on the bus and can no longer escape. Not that I'd ever want to . . .

How did you sleep the night before a life-changing day?