Peace Corps Videos

Thursday, September 20, 2007

My bags are packed; I'm ready to go!!

I will soon be joining 32 other people for the journey to Tonga. The group (33 including me) is larger than I had expected but apparently it includes both Education volunteers and Business volunteers like myself.

Today was final packing day. I'm heading to Virginia to begin a 10 day trek to say good-bye to my family before leaving September 30th for Los Angeles.

I have been out with friends here in Florida every day for the past week to say good-bye. It's exciting for me as the days get closer but also a bit sad knowing that I won't see many of these people for more than two years. A couple of friends have even promised to come visit and I hope they are able to work that out.

Because I’ve had a bit of time to plan, I have done a lot of thinking about what to take with me and still comply with the Peace Corps mandated 80lb limit for checked baggage. (No checked bag can exceed 50lbs and all bags must be 80lbs total.) I’m taking two bags to check and a backpack as a carry-on. Thankfully there are a number of volunteers who have posted what you need and don’t need to bring with you to survive for two years. The most helpful posting I found was on Tak's Peace Corps Tonga. I’ve made a few changes but am pretty much going with his list. I decided to bring a snorkel and mask but not fins, which are pretty bulky. I figure I can get a cheap pair in Tonga and those are not as critical as the mask and snorkel. I also took his advice and had my Cingular (now ATT) cell phone unlocked so I could activate it if I end up in a place with cell service. I already have a Bank of America ATM card, which was a very helpful suggestion. I bought a solar battery charger so I could charge the batteries for my camera, MP3 player and flashlights without electricity if necessary. I tried it out here in Florida and it seemed to work pretty well but hopefully I will have a good supply of electricity when I get my final assignment. I also am bringing a bicycle lock which another person suggested as a handy item to bring because you can use it not only to lock a bike but also to secure other items.

When you look at this photo it doesn't look like a lot of stuff to last for two years but I have been able to make it all fit into two bags.

I know I'm over the weight limit, probably by about 10lbs, perhaps even 15lbs. Hopefully I'll be able to sneak through with the extra weight. The airline we are flying to Tonga says you can have two bags up to 50lbs each. If that's the case, then I will be fine. However, I don't know if the Peace Corps has some kind of special deal or if we will follow the same weight requirements as the airline.

Oh and I got MORE forms today to fill out from the Peace Corps. These had to do with W-2's and direct deposit. We actually get taxed on the small stipend that they give us as volunteers. It is currently $280 per month or $3360 per year. We also get a $24 a month vacation allowance and a one-time move in payment of $516 to buy basic household items once we get our permanent job assignment. That comes to $4164 for the first year. It doesn't seem like much but apparently it is more than adequate. You are expected to live at the same economic level as your neighbors and colleagues. One volunteer in Tonga claims to have saved money because she didn't need the whole amount.

You can check out some of the other people who will be going to Tonga with me. I've put up links to the blogs of some of the other people in my group. They are listed under the Heading "Group 73 (my group) Tonga Blogs".

Monday, September 10, 2007

Three Weeks

Three weeks from today I will officially begin my journey to Tonga to start my Peace Corps training. It has now been a year since I first applied to volunteer. I can't wait to get started. I actually couldn't be happier about the way things have worked out so far with the process. While the application process was long and frustrating, it has been great to have so much time since receiving my invitation before I depart. I was originally scheduled to leave in early June, but due to a cancellation of the June program to Tonga, I was able to have almost five months to get ready. It's been four months since I stopped working and I can honestly say there has not been a single day where I was bored or looked back and wished I was still in television. I've also had a great opportunity to spend time with family and friends and to take some great trips. It's also given me time to get my personal affairs in order.

I will leave West Palm Beach on September 30th for Los Angeles where I will have a couple of days of training and then it is on to Tonga. So far, I've had contact with four people from my group and am anxiously looking forward to meeting the others.

According to the latest information I've received from the Peace Corps, "access to email should be available—albeit not necessarily at all times". In addition, it describes phone service as reliable but pricy. However, I may not have phone access during my 10 weeks of in-country training. Letters and packages can be sent to me at the following address:

Steve Hunsicker, PCT
Peace Corps
P.O. Box 147
Nuku'alofa, Tonga
South Pacific

It may take four to six weeks for something to get to me. That means if you mail something today, I will already be in Tonga when it arrives. Care packages are always welcome!! The Peace Corps recommends that mail be send in envelopes or padded envelopes if possible as boxes tend to be taxed and opened more frequently.

In case you are wondering, the "PCT" after my name stands for "Peace Corps Trainee". Once I complete my training, I will then be considered a "PCV" or "Peace Corps Volunteer".

In just ten days I'm going back to Virginia for a few days to say good-bye to my sisters and their families. I'm then coming back to Florida with Mom and Dad who are going to spend the final six days with me and take me to the airport.

Stay tuned…the adventure begins very soon!!

'Alu a! (Good-bye in Tongan)