Tuesday, November 13, 2012


The road to becoming a Peace Corps is longer than advertised.

While working as an SCA intern at Mt. Rainier National Park in 2008, the idea of becoming a Peace Corps volunteer was planted in my mind (in fact, I remember the exact spot in the Fred Meyer parking lot I was sitting in when my friend told me she wanted to serve in the Peace Corps).  A couple years later in my junior year, while sitting in my tiny dorm room in The Village on the UCSC campus, I made the decision to serve.  It wasn’t until April of 2011 that I actually clicked the submit button of the application.  One year and 7 months later, I have sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

The audience of our swearing-in ceremony included Ambassador Wayne accompanied by his wife and several embassy security officers, the entire PC/Mexico staff, several counterparts, including those all the way from Guadualajara (an 8 hour bus ride), and of course, members of our host families.  This swearing in ceremony marked the thirteenth group to swear in and serve in Mexico since the program was established in 2006.  

My Oath:
I do hereby solemnly affirm that as a volunteer of the United States Peace Corps that I, Shayna Atwood, will support the constitution and all laws of both the United States of America and the United Mexican States during my volunteer service in México.

I affirm that I will bear faith and allegiance to the same, that I take this obligation freely, and that I will faithfully discharge my duties to the United States and the México during my period of service.

See photos from our ceremony and the rest of the day here.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Field-Based Training

The view from the top of our hike.  Mexico City is under the layer of smog.
For field-based training, the environmental education group went to GRUPEDSAC, an organization located in Huixquilucan, Mexico that demonstrates and builds eco-tecnias.  We spent two weeks learning how to build a cistern, a stove, a fruit dehydrator, and a vegetable garden.  We had two extremely patient and knowledgable leaders to teach us the ins and outs of constructing these green technologies.  Before we arrived, families were selected based on need to receive what we built.  The families were so nice to us.  We spent a couple of afternoons resting and getting to know the members of the family.  Some of them even jumped in to learn how to build the stove and vegetable garden.  The day after building the stove, the women prepared us arrachera with steak, chorrizo, nopales, and jalapeños served with handmade tortillas.  Arguably the most rewarding I've eaten here so far.

From this...
...to this, arrachera and handmade tortillas

fruit dehydrator with apple slices on the first two shelves

vegetable gardens

The day before we returned to Querétaro, we held an eco-feria for the local escuela secundaria.  We had 75 2nd-6th graders come through our five stations and taught them about environmental subjects.  It was a lot of hard work but it turned out really well.

My station was on habitats.  We talked about the different habitats that are in the community and then drew the habitat of an animal.  I used as much glitter glue on my poster as I could get my hands on.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The First Month in Photos

For El Día de la Indepedencía, a group of us went to  Plaza de Armas to participate in El Grito.  Find out more about El Grito.

After El Grito, we had a beer or 4.

This is a pumpkin growing in a tree.


We took a field trip to CEDESA, a community that demonstrates green technologies in Dolores Hidalgo, Guanajuato.  

This is La Botella, a tequila tour in Ciudad Guzmán and the most ridiculous vehicle I have ever seen, and I lived in Santa Cruz for 4 years.

In front of the main church in Atacco.

I didn't know whether or not to be surprised to see a California licence plate in the rural town of Atacco.  Many people migrate north to the USA for work but it was still a little shocking to see this.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Tengo Muchísimo Suerte

Today was the first day of our Counterpart Workshop.  We had a short session in the morning and by 11 am were introduced to our future co-workers.  As luck would have it, I have three young, exciting, adorable counterparts.  While we are still getting to know each other, I don't think it will be difficult to fit right it.

Tomorrow we depart for Jalisco, a 6 hour drive across the country.  I am a little nervous because today they talked about the car breaking down on the highway last night while they were heading out here.  They have reassured me that everything is fine now.  For now, my nerves are overshadowed by the excitement I have for the opportunity to practice Spanish while getting to know my counterparts.

I still don't have a cable for my camera.  For now, here are some photos of places I love from people I love.

The Space Needle, from Ari and Yak-Nam.

Shoreline,  from my dad

Now to pack my bags for my site visit to Jalisco!

Friday, August 31, 2012

Six Turtles Live in My House…

…but they are in a tank.  There used to be seven but one died.

The most important lesson of the day was the importance of the tilde in the letter ñ.  Excluding an accent from a word doesn’t change the meaning but forgetting the tilde can have major consequences.  Por ejemplo, la palabra “año.”  Imagine if the tilde was left out of these sentences: ¡Feliz año nueveo!  ¿Cuántos años tienes?  ¿Cómo fue su año?

Today has been the most exciting day so far because we found out our post assignments.  First, we had a very long introduction to our sectors.  Then, to introduce each state, we watched videos highlighting the great things about the state.  If you are ever in a lousy mood, you should YouTube ads for states because they are hilarious, like this one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=raaG6cXvRIA  So I will be in Jalisco working with CEFOFOR, el centro de formacion forestal.  More on what that means in the coming weeks.

After work, our host families met us at the office and we had a party on the patio.  Each host brought a dish to share and we had a potluck dinner.  Everything I tried was delicious.  Después, an instructor led some dancing and the families, volunteers, and staff all danced together and had a great time.

Recently, the family went to a party.  When they left, they were given party bags containing sweets.  Today, we received our first aid kits containing medicine like ibuprofen, bug spray, cough medicine, etc..  After the party, mi mama helped me carry my first aid kit home.  Leo, 6, was so excited because we got a box from the party.  He kept trying to open it to find the candy.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Let’s Stop Talking About It and Just Do It Already!

Tuesday (8/28) night was my last night the USA.

After turning in all of our paperwork, we finally transitioned from Invitees to Trainees.  In Washington DC, we spent some time at the Mexican consulate and cultural center.  I had my last American dinner at a really nice café (brie Panini and sweet potato fries).  We traveled all day Wednesday to get to Querétaro (bus, airplane, airplane, bus).  We were all pretty exhausted by the end of the day.

Today was our first real day as Trainees.  We met the entire Peace Corps/Mexico staff and got a tour of the office.  We a really delicious lunch and the staff came out to eat with us.  We also had our first Spanish class in our small groups.  The instructor spoke only (mostly) Spanish to us, which I was really pleased with.

The last item on the agenda was to meet our host families.  They picked us up from the office and took us all back to our houses.  I have a bedroom with a king size bed and my own bathroom.  I was able to have a light dinner (cereal!) and spend some time getting to know my new family.  When I first got to the house, I felt really alone.  I’ve gotten used to being part of a large group and we’ve all gotten to know each other pretty well.  Suddenly, I was in this house all by myself trying to get by on my broken Spanish.  Everyone is so nice and the kids are really silly.

Tomorrow I will try to get myself to the office for the first time.  I have a 15-20 minute walk from the house to the office.  This should be interesting.  At least they gave me a map (thanks Google!).

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Anticipation is the Worst Part

I suppose now is as good a time as any to post about what has happened since I accepted my invitation months ago:

1. It doesn't matter how much you study, immersion is the only way to learn a new language.
I have studied a lot of Spanish.  In July, we traveled to the Yucatan for 2.5 weeks and in that time used more Spanish than I ever did in any classroom.  There's a terrifying factor that can be unaccounted for in the classroom: talking with native speakers.  Being immersed is like completely starting over in the learning process.

The day after returning home from our Mexico trip, I had a phone interview with the language specialist in Mexico.  The interview is used to determine initial placements once training begins in Queretero.  She asked me a series of questions over about a 30 minute phone conversation.  If anything is harder than speaking in Spanish, it's doing it over the phone.

2. The reading material is a steadily growing list of of the same thing printed under several different titles.
The invitation kit includes the Volunteer Handbook, as well as a couple other booklets, and a link to the Mexico Welcome Book.  Outside of the invitation kit, I have been asked to read Peace Corps Approach to Safety and Security and a very detailed description of what will happen between arriving in DC and getting picked up by my host family, as well as participate in a safety and security online course.  I have also read a few documents provided by the Information Collection and Exchange on environmental education, youth, and community  Overall, I think I've done more reading in preparation for departure than I did in 4 years of college (but admittedly because I never did the reading when I was in school).

3. Knowing what to expect relieves a lot of stress caused by thinking about what is to come.
By far the single best document I have read has described the events that will happen my first week as a trainee.  It will be a physically and emotionally rough few days but knowing exactly what is expected to happen takes some of the pressure off.

For the next two week, I am just trying to enjoy all of my favorite American things.

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