Thursday, April 21, 2011

Off I go!

It's hard to believe that I'm leaving to start my Peace Corps journey in 4 days! I thought for sure when this time came that I would be a big ball of emotions, but I'm actually not feeling much of anything. I'm not excited. I'm not freaking out. I'm not nervous. I'm not anxious. I'm just kind of… blah. 

I was explaining my total lack of emotions to one of my friends earlier this week and I think he hit the nail on the head. He said this journey is probably so huge and unlike anything I've ever experienced that it's impossible to tie any kind of emotion to it. His prediction: Once I've moved in with my new host family (alone) and I'm sitting in my bedroom after unpacking (alone) and I'm realizing I've actually moved to a foreign country (alone)… then the emotions will appear. I don't say this often, but I think he's right. So I've accepted my lack of emotions, knowing they will show up at some point, and am focusing instead on getting all those last minute tasks completed. 

(Thank you, MCJ, for your insight, support and encouragement. You're awesome.)

Since I can't give everyone a weepy or excited farewell, I'm going to share my list of "what I'll miss most."  I'm not going to include family members, friends or my sweet fluffy babies – that goes without saying. I'm also not going to include modern conveniences like a washer/dryer, hot showers or indoor plumbing – that's just too easy. So as I get ready to say goodbye to the United States and the people I love, I also want to say goodbye to the things I love:
  1. Gamecock football
  2. Hilton Head, SC (including the beach, the smell of ocean air, the sound of waves crashing, long walks on the beach and choosing which million dollar home I want, shrimp boats coming in at the end of the day, my favorite restaurants, early morning kayaking, and the view from the bridge)
  3. Coffee brewed just the way I like it
  4. South Carolina peaches
  5. The Daily Show
  6. The 4th of July
  7. High heels
  8. English
  9. Books and bookstores
  10. Condiments
Goodbye, things I love. And goodbye to each of you… my amazingly wonderful friends and loved ones. Don't forget to write! And maybe cheer for the Gamecocks in my absence! 

P.S. All postcards, packages and love letters will be accepted here:

Susan Burkhart, PCT
29a Vazha Pshavela Avenue
0160, Tbilisi Georgia

Do NOT put Peace Corps Georgia in the address, as this may result in delayed delivery or require customs clearance fees. 

Monday, April 11, 2011

6 airports. 3 days.

While I was in Indianapolis last week, I received an email from the Peace Corps letting me know we would be meeting in Philadelphia for staging, and asking us to make our travel arrangements as soon as possible. The Peace Corps pays for all of our flights, and books the international leg for us, so I all I had to do was book my U.S. flight through their travel agency. 

I decided to call right away, assuming it would only take a few minutes to book my flight. I had already looked at flights online and had spotted a lovely U.S. Airways flight departing from Savannah at 8:30 a.m., connecting in Charlotte, and landing in Philly an hour before I needed to be there. Perfect! 

Or not. Apparently flying out of a tiny airport, during spring break, on Easter Monday, after a PGA tournament in Hilton Head ends, does not equal perfect. Every flight was sold out. You can only guess what this means… I'm on the worst possible flight out of Savannah. I'll depart at 6:30 a.m. (which means getting up at 4:00 a.m.), fly to Miami, and then on to Philly. Now, I realize that most U.S. Americans don't, like, have maps* – but I do think most people know Miami is not really on the way to Philly. Oh well.

After 6 hours of flying and layovers, I'll arrive in Philly at 12:15 p.m.; registration starts at 12:30 p.m. Awesome… 15 minutes to gather up my 100 lbs. of luggage, catch a cab and get downtown. Oh, and I'm supposed to eat lunch before registration otherwise it will be 7:00 p.m. before we have dinner. This day is going to be so much fun, I can already tell!

After everyone arrives and fills out the necessary paperwork, we'll have a 5-hour-long meeting (called staging) to go over expectations and what's next in the process. Our group will go to dinner that night and then we'll finally get some rest. But then we're up early again the next morning to catch our flight out of Philly. Oh wait, no, that's not right… I meant to say… to catch our bus to JFK. Yes, a bus. From one international airport to another. Don't ask.

We'll arrive at JFK around 11:00 a.m., and our flight will depart at 5:00 p.m. It's funny… I've always wondered what one could do at JFK for 6 leisurely hours and now I'll get to find out!

We'll finally board our 10-hour flight from JFK to Istanbul, Turkey, and will arrive at the respectable hour of 1:00 p.m., just in time for lunch! Oh, except it will be 3:00 a.m. East Coast time. We'll have a 3-hour layover in Turkey and then we'll finally board our flight to T'bilisi. Thankfully this last leg is only 2 hours and then we'll actually be in Georgia!

This is going to be the longest 3 days of my life – and I'm already looking forward to it being over. But at least I'm finally getting excited! Having actual flights and agendas makes it all so real and exciting! So the flights are a little torturous… nothing that is worthwhile is ever easy, right? 

So here's to the G11s and our 3 long but worthwhile days of traveling!

* Thank you, Miss South Carolina, for providing endless hours of entertainment that never, ever gets old. For those who missed it, enjoy...

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Parting is such sweet sorrow...

Less than 3 weeks in our great country and I'm still feeling completely overwhelmed! Luckily I've been able to cross a few items off my to-do list, but there are still a lot of things left to do and a lot of people left to see. 

I just got back from a wonderful yet bittersweet trip to Indiana where I got to say goodbye to a lot of my family members. The trip started with a quick stop in Columbia, SC where I got to drive around my college campus and enjoy a nice dinner at one of our favorite hot spots, Harper's! Although I felt really old around those young college kids (I never thought I would say that!!), it was fun to be on campus and remember all the good times I had at USC. 

Then it was on to Greenville, SC for a quick overnight stay at my Aunt Peg's house, and the next morning we (my mom and I) left for Mount Vernon, IN where I got to enjoy a lovely lunch and visit with my 95-year-old grandmother (my dad's mother). She played the piano for me – without missing a beat, of course – and told stories about my grandfather whom we all miss dearly. She is an amazing woman and it was a visit I will never forget. I also got to see my Aunt Sharon and Uncle Larry, as well as my gorgeous cousin Anna and her two kids, Rachel and Luke. It was a short visit, but I was so glad I got to see everyone.


As much as I wanted to stay in Mount Vernon for a little while longer, we had to get to Indianapolis so I could see my mom's side of the family… all 67 of them! (Okay, I didn’t get to see all 67, but my grandma recently counted how many immediate, living, blood relatives we have and that was the number she came up with – my big fat Irish Catholic family!)

My visit to Indy was perfect. I got to see four of my aunts and uncles – Carolyn, John, Joe and Joanne – my cousins Chris and Mike (and his adorable family), and my one-of-a-kind grandma who makes me laugh like no other. I love her sense of humor, her loving nature and her spirit. She's my Kindle-owning, cell phone-carrying, kayak-paddling, hip 91-year-old Gram! And she's not afraid to order a margarita at dinner either. :-) Like I said, my visit was perfect. We had some great meals, great conversations, great laughs, and I finally found some winter clothes to buy!


Unfortunately all great things must come to an end, which meant it was time to return to SC and my to-do list. On the way back home, we stopped again at my aunt's house and randomly enough, my Aunt Marnie and Uncle Eddie were passing through town so we got to visit with them too! 

So now I'm back in Hilton Head, working on my taxes and language lessons, and wondering if I'm ever going to be ready to leave. I'm still ridden with anxiety and stress, and wondering when, exactly, the excitement will start to kick in. I mean... I'm joining the Peace Corps! On one hand, I know it's my dream come true, but on the other hand... parting is such sweet sorrow. Especially when you have a family like mine.