Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Farewell 2008

I like making resolutions and I enjoy starting fresh much more than I tend to reflect on the past.  It seems reasonable, however, to take a moment on the last day of the year to give thanks for the experiences and people that empowered me in 2008, before I start writing about 2009.

This year began in a cold, snowy village half a world away around a table of pork, rice and beef-stuffed grape leaves, deserts, fresh fruit and fried crepes.  My Armenian host family and I exchanged gifts and I thankfully dawned a brand new lime green sweater before everyone ran outside into the dark night-no street lights- to set off homemade fireworks and greet the new year with screams and whistles.  

Life after Armenia has been less festive, but certainly as challenging as I remember my first months in a new country.  Moving to Seattle this fall has brought back memories of introducing myself, learning about the local culture and trying to find my place in Armenia in 2006.  The anxiety today is similar to what I felt as I figured out how my primary assignment, teaching healthy life skills in a secondary school, would utilize my professional background, training and personal passions in that little village.

In fact, there are great similarities between my integration approach in Surenavan in 2006 and in Seattle in 2008.  Informational interviews today involve my invitation to coffee at a local cafe, a strict 30-minute time limit, planned questions, direct objectives and exchange of business cards.  In Surenavan, the interviews took place in a stranger's home, were rarely scheduled, lasted several hours, included excessive eating, personal discussions about my family and exchange of telephone numbers for future text messaging.  Regardless of the approach, or the information exchanged, my objective is identical today to what I hoped for then: to develop a network.  It was more important than ever in Armenia to meet those who would respect my opinions and trust my advice in the community.  I desperately needed to know the right people connected to the mayor's office, leading the community youth group or gardening spinach in their backyard.  Sure, life was different, specifically Armenian coffee and Starbucks lattes, but people are the same worldwide.  

Another similarity is language learning.  In Armenia, would sit in staff meetings and write lists of words I heard the director say.  Afterwards, I would call on the only English speaking woman in the village for reference and translation.  She and I would write out the Armenian and the correct pronunciation and I'd study the new vocabulary from flash cards.  In Seattle, it's not such a process to understand what people are saying to me and how to handle responsibilities in a professional setting.  Regardless, I had a lot of catching up to do in August.  I needed to be able to recognize and define Drupal, Long Tail, News Feeds and Social Graphs.  Thank you, Lara, for your mentorship in all things social media and to PRSA for providing me with seminars and panels to learn more about how the PR industry is embracing Web 2.0.  

Finally, I learned the value of family from Surenavan and give thanks every day for my real one in Ohio.  It was my Armenian host family that celebrated my successes, cared during difficulties and taught survival skills for life in a small community.  My Ohio family took over in 2008 by celebrating my completion of service, understanding when I decided to leave home again and preparing me with survival skills for life in a new city (i.e. a AAA membership).

When I started 2008, I had no idea where it would end.  Some people don't prefer uncertainty, but if there's one thing I learned in the Peace Corps it's resilience.  Oh what a transfer of skills!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Happy Holidays

Dear Readers,

I can't begin to express how empowered I am by the support you've provided me during 2008.  This year was both challenging and rewarding as I said goodbye to my little Armenian village and ventured off to Washington in search of another adventure on the coast.  

Thank you so much for your encouragement no matter where I am.  The world seems smaller because of our opportunity to stay connected.  

Merry Christmas and all the best in 2009!



P.S.  Please enjoy the first page of my little holiday newsletter below (you can click to enlarge).   

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

From Peace Corps to Web 2.0

Peace Corps trainees learn community mapping as a Participatory Assessment for Community Action tool early in our service.  The PACA tools are meant to equip volunteers for project design and implementation in our communities.  The process of community mapping is a basic way for us to gather a group of interested citizens and find out what places they visit most, see often or care about in their daily lives.  By literally drawing a map of the community, it becomes clear what areas are important and what most people don't even bother to notice.  Volunteers use these maps to learn about where the best location for a new public playground; others to recognize what buildings need renovation.  

I was reminded of the PACA process today while reading an article posted on the Fast Company Web site by Allyson Kapin.  Ms. Kapin interviewed eight social media experts on where they saw Web 2.0 changing in 2009.  One expert, Rebecca Moore, the director of outreach for GoogleEarth, discussed the process of collaborative mapping and it's influence in Web 2.0 in 2009.  

"In terms of social media, I think we are just at the beginning of 'collaborative mapping'-people working together with friends and colleagues to build shared maps of places they care about."

She goes on to describe Appalachian Voices, a grassroots environmental organization, and how it paired social media with mapping to advocate for the end of mountaintop-removal coal mining.  

What a great hope for the future of social media!  The combination of an old Peace Corps community assessment method in the developing world and the new technology of developed nations will impact how organizations operate in 2009. 

Sometimes returned volunteers are asked about how their service transfers in to the way we do business in America.  The answer is always clear for me, but was reinforced by Ms. Moore in today's Fast Company article.  The Peace Corps teaches project design through community engagement.  It's not a foreign concept to realize that the most successful work is done when people with resources-or products or services- collaborate with their target constituents. 


Monday, December 08, 2008

Weekend on Whidbey Island

We went to visit Whidbey Island yesterday.  The island, located only 30 miles north of Seattle, forms the northern boundary of Puget Sound and is one of nine islands in Island County, WA. We've been dying to ride the Washington State Ferries and see the islands, so when Dominic's friends invited us up for a short weekend we gladly accepted.  

The trip has two routes, up and around and across on a ferry.  We drove up to Deception Pass Bridge and were delighted to find I-5 host to farmland like Ohio and mountain ranges like northern California.  The trip only took two hours from Seattle including a stop to see an alpaca farm and hike around the bridge.  

I'm not sure why we were so amazed by these birds.  They were pretty like swans but flew like geese.  They looked like piles of snow as we were driving along-until they took off.

They may be cute, but they're not friendly.  Apparently they hate being touched or, as Dominic was dismayed to learn, ridden.  

Deception Pass Bridge

You can hike down below the bridge. 

The first time I ever saw this snake-like seaweed I was amazed and curious but too disgusted to play with it. Although it seemed far too slimy to touch in October, I had a great time whipping it around on the beach yesterday.  I'm falling in love with the ocean. 

Here they are all lined up like ropes along the Deception Pass coastline.  Strange floating whips.

Dom's friends were excellent hosts.  We met in a quaint little town called Langley for drinks and then went home for a made-from-scratch dinner of: pumpkin and cheese fondue, salad, lasagna, and apple and pumpkin pie.   They live on 11 acres of land so this morning we took a walk and greeted their 'pets'.  


Our ride on the ferry this morning was a little less thrilling than the cruise-line experience we had anticipated.  We drove on for less than $7 and didn't even know we were moving until just before the announcer thanked us for riding and hoped to see us again soon.  

It was a convenient trip with lovely scenery and beautiful beaches.  We'll certainly be on that ferry again soon.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Depression lesson from Grandma

Last week, I spent some quality time with my grandparents.  Before leaving for Seattle, my grandma gave me a newspaper clipping from the business section of the Toledo Blade.  Homer Brickey, the newspaper's senior business writer, wrote the article titled, "Polar Opposites in Great Depression's Effects".

Brickey compared his grandfathers' experiences during the Great Depression and I couldn't help but wonder how his grandfathers compared to how people are adapting to change today.  

After losing everything, one grandfather rejected all things modern, "He had his telephone and electricity disconnected.  He read by the light of a kerosene lamp.  He had no car, only an old engine that drove a belt to saw lumber and to grind sugar the end of his 84 years, he had become a virtual hermit."  

The other grandfather was quite different.  "He embraced change and was among the first in his region to buy a refrigerator, a washing machine, a television set.  He seldom missed a news broadcast and eagerly awaited his daily copy of the Cincinnati Post in the mail".  His attitude was: "Will wonders never cease?"  

I'll admit, when I got back from the Peace Corps I wanted to be the first grandfather in Brickey's story.  I wanted to come back and remember the good days before constant text messaging, Twitter updating and blog posting.  I liked the mail I received with hand-written letters and I wanted someone to call and talk to me every so often.  It worked in Armenia, why wouldn't I just stick to that lifestyle here?  

The reason, of course, is because I'm too young to work backward and there are far too many wonders that I can enjoy this very minute.  I can video chat with my family in real time, Skype friends across the globe and Tweet both personal and professional news instantly.  I'm eager to use the new tools of online communications to reach those I love and those I don't even know yet.  

Even though life's uncertain, I must agree that I enjoy the learning opportunity I have now.  

Will wonders never cease?