We rang the COS bell on Tuesday, completing our service in Peace Corps Moldova.
We joined a large group of volunteers in our group who are among the first to officially complete their service. Champa and I depart on Wednesday for a short trip and will then head home to North Carolina.
This special moment also feels like the right time for me to take a pause from this blog.
Readers, I want to thank you so much for following along with Champa and me, regardless of how recently you discovered “Not Exactly Retired” or how regularly you’ve tuned in. I’ve posted 265 stories since we started our adventure three years ago, attracting readers from around the world. My blog posts and videos have been viewed more than 100,000 times. I’ve treasured the messages and comments I’ve received in response, especially from readers who said they were inspired to follow their own dreams.
This blog and my videos never interfered with my primary Peace Corps assignment at the Ialoveni library or the projects I’ve undertaken in Moldova. (As a former news office director, I work fast.) Indeed, they have helped me make sense of our time here while simultaneously promoting the Peace Corps goal of enhancing understanding between Americans and people in other countries.
I’m not ending the blog, just taking a break while we reintegrate with American life and our family (above), which has been waiting for us to come home. I expect to return in the future with some new adventures and hope you will join me then.
We’ve loved having you with us on our journey and hope you will pursue yours as well. Life is awaiting you, no matter how you choose to define your own “not exactly.” For now, I bid you a heartfelt la revedere.
If you spent more than two years living outside the United States, what would make you anxious about returning home?
- Finding housing, a car, where to live
- Seeing/hearing Trump everywhere
- Big grocery stores
- American work culture
- A different me reintegrating into a hometown that hasn’t changed
These were among the responses posted on flipcharts by members of our Peace Corps Moldova volunteer group this past week when we gathered at our “close of service” conference. We discussed everything from writing site reports to preparing ourselves to leave our Moldovan friends and each other.
Volunteers also wrote what they anticipate most about going home:
- Driving on the backroads
- My dog
- Being with my family
- Access to Taco Bell at 2 a.m.
And what they’ll miss most about Moldova:
- My host family
- House wine
- Fresh fruit & veggies
- Waking up to fresh snow
Our three days at a rural conference center outside the capital were emotional. Together we have shared a life-changing experience. Now we will head our separate ways — to graduate school, new jobs, our families. The conference helped us make sense of what we have experienced and what lies ahead.
“As soon as I’m no longer a PCV,” one question asked, “I can’t wait to”:
- Take a bath
- Hold new nieces and nephews
- Not check in/out
- Go backpacking with my brothers
And the members of Moldova 31 also said what makes them most proud of their service as Peace Corps Volunteers:
- Our students’ improvement
- Community impact
- Surviving rutiera (minibus) rides on hot summer days
- Language learning
- Seeing the youth gain a more positive impact on their futures
Two months remain until the departures begin. Champa and I are in the first group, which leaves on July 3. We still have so much to do until then. We are dreaming of reuniting with our family and friends back home — and dreading saying goodbye to Moldova.
Champa and I now know when we will finish our Peace Corps service: on July 3.
We and the other members of our Moldova 31 group gathered at a Close of Service (COS) Lottery on Saturday afternoon to take turns choosing dates this summer when we’ll each wrap up. Peace Corps staggers our departures to better manage all of the logistics.
Everyone’s name was placed in a hat, with the three married couples each listed together. As people’s names were called, they selected one of the available departure slots on a large calendar.
Ours were among the first names called. We chose an early date because we plan to take a two-week trip with some friends and then head home to reoccupy our house in North Carolina, which will be vacated shortly before then by our tenants. Many of our fellow M31 volunteers are also planning COS trips, a tradition among departing volunteers worldwide. Some members of our group need to return home quickly to begin jobs or graduate school. One just accepted a new Peace Corps assignment in Tonga.
When all of us first met at a hotel in Philadelphia in May 2016, one of our Peace Corps “stagers” said we were meeting our new “government-issued family.” During our time together in Moldova, we’ve become that and more.
We all had fun on Saturday posing for funny photos next to our departure dates, as we’re doing here with our friend Ingrid, and for a group photo together. Most of us then continued the party at the Smokehouse Restaurant launched by two former volunteers.
I found it all bittersweet. Now that Champa and I have an actual date, the approaching end of our Peace Corps service is no longer an abstraction. We know when we will reunite with our family and friends in America, and we cannot wait to see them, but we also know we’ll have to say goodbye to our host family and Moldovan friends, and to the other volunteers with whom we’ve shared this unforgettable journey.
The countdown has started. 163 days to go.