Heading to LA

After more than a year of paperwork, medical tests and interviews, I’m finally on my way to Los Angeles for staging. Right now, I’m flying somewhere over the Gulf of Mexico, after saying a final good-bye to my parents. Saying good-bye has been a lot harder than I thought it would be. Not just to my parents but my sisters, other members of my family and my friends. I’ve certainly been away for long periods of time in the past, but never for two years with little chance that I will see most of the important people in my life during the time away. For the last week, we started calling things “My last trip to Miami”, “ my last trip to my favorite restaurant”, “My last swim in the pool”, etc. Of course they probably aren’t really my last ever trip to those places but it does seem like a long time before I will be back. All the good-byes have been great, but I’ve put on a few pounds from all the big going-away meals and drinks.

As I was checking in at the airport counter, they weighted my bags and I was over a bit more than I thought. After a bit or rearranging, I got my big bag to weigh in at 70lbs, the maximum Continental allows. I had to pay a $25 surcharge for being overweight. The Peace Corps will not reimburse me for this but I am not sure what else I could have left out at this point. Apparently I will have to pay $35 more dollars for the extra weight on our overseas flight. The good news is I’ve packed so that I shouldn’t have to open the bag until I get to Tonga. Once there, I can store the things I won’t need during training.

A couple of days ago, I got an e-mail from the Peace Corps with more details about what I’ll be doing for the remainder of this year. I will begin training almost immediately after arriving in Tonga on Thursday. (Which is Wednesday in the USA). I’ll have two home-stays during my training. That means I will be living in the home of two Tonga families. The first home stay will be with another volunteer on the main island of Tonga and will last 18 days. After that, I get to take a 22 hour boat trip to Vavua, which is north of the main island. I’ve heard from other volunteers that the 22 hour boat trip is not very pleasant and that we will be on-deck for the trip. Once I get there, is looks like the second home stay lasts about six weeks. The Peace Corps e-mail also said I should have access to the Internet and perhaps even to phones during my training. It will be great if I can keep in touch with everyone back home.

My biggest concern about joining the Peace Corps has been learning the language. I’ve never learned a language so I don’t have a frame of reference on how I will do. I bought the Tongan language CD’s and book to start studying but learning from a CD is difficult as you don’t get any feed-back on how you are progressing. I was very happy to read that “instructors teach formal language classes five days a week to small groups of four to five people”. I think being in a small group should make it much easier for me to learn.
Assuming that I pass the language test and other training successfully, I will be sworn in as a volunteer on December 13th. Shortly before that time, I should find out my permanent job assignment and where I will be living.

I opted to come to Los Angeles a day early. That way I avoided having to get up at 5am to get to the airport and get a same-day flight to LA. I figured I could use one more night of sleep before diving into the Peace Corps very full training schedule. My uncle, who lives in Palm Desert, is driving to Los Angeles to see me as well. I will do my best to post an update after my staging and before getting on the plane to Tonga.

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