Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Language: French and Wolof

Last week, we were assigned our languages and started a very intensive learning process. For business volunteers (like myself), we are required to be both sufficient in French and a local language.

Luckily my PC recruiter encouraged me to take some French while still at school, which helped. Also, PC gave us access to Rosetta Stone, so I spent about 40 hours before I left the USA.

What exactly are “sufficient” language requirements? PCVs are required to reach the level of intermediate-mid, which basically means you are able to have some basic conversations, talk about your family, and survive. Vocabulary and grammar are not 100% correct, but manageable mistakes are made at this level of language.

For me, I tested beyond the intermediate-mid level of French, so my language I was assigned to learn was Wolof.

Wolof is probably the most widely spoken African language spoken in this country. It’s very similar to French and uses many of the same vocabulary words, just much different accents and consonants. But the language as a whole is not terribly difficult, just a bit overwhelming right now. We’re in language classes 6.5 days/week, go home to chat with the family (as much as my broken French and Wolof allow), and have homework to study as well. So I’m staying very busy. At the same time, our training program is designed to have us speaking at a sufficient level in just 9 weeks.

The class is conducted in French, so I'm quickly improvin that language as well. Pretty soon, I may be trilingual...

Please wish me luck, because if my Wolof does not test high enough to reach Intermediate-Mid, I cannot start my PC service.

Finally, for the next few months, you can call me by the name: Gora Mbaay. It’s the Senegalese name my family gave to me :)

Byron Yee
Peace Corps Trainee - Senegal, 2009

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Home Stay

So last monday, our home stay began. Wow, what a crazy and ridiculously frightening thing...

My group of classmates and my teacher were all driven to Tiwawaan, a village nearby to Thies (our PC training center). Each of us were dropped off one by one with little/no Wolof skills. I was absolutely frightened. Thankfully, my family speaks French so there is SOME communication. I awoke the next morning to realize that I was still alive; my homestay has only gotten better since.

My family is huge: 15-20 people. We live in 3 separate houses because of our size. My family is very wonderful and generous. I'm incredibly well fed and taken care of. It took the little kids a couple days to realize that I'm not a bad guy, so now we play socccer together and they're trying to teach me Senegalese nursery rhymes.

Language tip: If youare ever learning a new language, hang out with lots of kids. They have the most patience and a similar level of vocabulary...

Food: Senegal's national dish is Ceebu Gen, which is fish and rice. It tastes great. In general, the food is different and difficult to explain the new flavors and tastes. It's easier to explain how my stomach has been reacting, but I'll spare you any graphic details and just say that some things are uncomfortable...Also, I love mangos. Nothing beats eating fresh mangos that have just fallen off the tree in your yard :) Jealous about my humble lifestyle now??

Our main job/focus for this portion of training is language learning. We're in class 6.5 days/week, 6 hours/day. So lots of language. During the off time, I hang out with my family under the mango trees. Shade is very important here. I'll save my language stuff for a separate blog entry.

Amenities: Probably the biggest difference here is the bathroom situations. First, bucket showers. Running water here is defined as a spicket that supplies water for you, which is better than a well. Second, squat toilets. And finally, no toilet paper. I'll spare you details here too, just remember that if you ever visit Senegal, we only shake with our right hands. 'Nough said...

Overall, I'm having a great time here. Things are a bit challenging and frustrating at times, but I'm keeping mine and others spirits up as much as possible. Laughing is key in this environment. People laugh at me, mainly because I sound like an idiot speaking Wolof, but it's important to laugh at myself as well. And believe me, there's plenty to laugh at...

PS. It's very hot here and very humid right now.
Byron Yee
Peace Corps Trainee - Senegal, 2009

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Inside Thies

This afternoon, we were able to leave our training compound for the first time. I finally feel like I'm in Senegal for the first time because we got a chance to visit the actual city. It was quite overwhelming, but very exciting. Lots of sights, smells, sounds...

New term: "toubab" which means stranger or white person. In Senegal, it is culturally acceptable to call a person by their ethnicity, and they definitely know when you are a "toubab". Also, most local nationals have not met too many Asian people, so that will be an additional label I will be experiencing.

Impromptu Talent Show:
Last night, our trainee group decided to have an impromptu performance of talents. I packed my tap shoes, in hopes of sharing my dance with my Senegalese friends and busted out my shows for the entire training compound. It's very hot in Senegal, therefore very sweaty...However, my performance (and others') were very well received.

More language and cultural language to come, which you will definitely hear about soon.

A Bientot!

Byron Yee
Peace Corps Trainee - Senegal, 2009

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The first days

Monday morning: I left SeaTac airport and said goodbye to my dad, struggling to hold back tears.

I arrived in Reagan National Airport and met up with my sister, Angela and her husband, Greg. We took the metro to Washington Plaza Hotel, which was a classier place than I've ever stayed in and had a wonderful dinner together.

Tuesday: All 50 PC trainees going to Senegal met for a 6 hour orientation/staging process. As overwhelming as it was, I was eager and almost relieved to finally chat with people who were going through the same experiences as me.

Wednesday: Got my Yellow Fever vaccination. It was a little nerve racking watching 49 others slowly go through the line to get their same needle puncture...Hopped on a plane from Dulles airport heading for Dakar.

Thursday: After only about 4 hours of collective sleep on an airplane, we arrived in Dakar. We were immediately greeted by the PC Senegal staff and then took a 2 hour bus ride to Thies, our training center. The site is beautiful: electricity, running water, AND wifi...I'll post pictures soon, I promise.

As for now, its 9pm in Senegal and I'm finally exhausted after my day of travel and other fun things. A bientot!

Byron Yee
Peace Corps Trainee - Senegal, 2009

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Some Final Thoughts

My bags are packed, my goodbyes have been said, my tears have been shed. It's now officially time for me to hit the road. It would be lying to say that I'm not nervous, scared, or very sad. It would be lying to say that I'm not anxious, excited, or energetic. I am all of these things and much more.

Regardless of my emotional whirlpool, I feel ready. Ready to meet all 50 other PC trainees heading to Senegal with me. Ready to feel lost, confused, outcast in a strange new world. Ready to fully test and challenge all the social, educational, and technical skills I have developed in my 23 years of life. Ready, and arriving with an open mind and open heart. Ready - thanks to all of you.

I'm currently chatting online with a dear friend from Thailand. This week, I also received emails from my friends and family in Lebanon, Canada, Italy, and Brazil (and of course the USA). Knowing that there are people all of over the world supporting my journey brings me peace. Please keep in touch, and please continue all of your hard work you are doing, whether it be abroad or on the homefront. My efforts are not any more or less important than yours.

Watch out world! Byron Yee is on the move...

Assalaamalekum (Peace be with you).

Byron Yee
Peace Corps Trainee - Senegal, 2009


Okay, time for the beginning of my crazy journey.

Next stop: Washington DC for a staging/orientation event. I'll be there for about 2 days.

Flight to Dakar: From DC to Dakar is only about 8.5 hours. Turns out the Atlantic ocean is much smaller than the Pacific...We arrive around 5:30am Senegal time. Hopefully I can sleep on the plane a lot.

Bus to Thies: 2 hour bus ride from Dakar to Thies, my home for the next 3 months.

Byron Yee
Peace Corps Trainee - Senegal, 2009

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Peace Corps Application Process

Since I set up this blog for the main purpose of sharing my Peace Corps stories and adventures, I figure I should put everyone up to speed. See below for a summary of my PC process thus far.

September 2008: Application
When applying to serve in a 3rd world country for an extended period of time, don't expect this to be an easy or simple process. The initial application was a 15 hour process which included personal information, employment history, medical history, fingerprints, a resume, college transcripts, and two 500 word essays.

October 2008: Interview
My PC recruiter, Anne Fraser, came up to WWU for a career fair; we used this convenient time to meet for my first interview. Everything went very well, Anne put everything into a very informative (and somewhat shocking) perspective. There were a few more emails and follow up phone calls later in this month.

November 2008: Nomination
Anne nominated me to be considered for a program which included business advising and ecotourism in Sub-Saharan Africa. That's literally as specific as it gets - for now.

December 2008: Medical Screening
Nothing says "happy holidays" like multiple visits to the dentist, doctors, and shrinks...I thought the initial application was complex; not compared to the medical screening. The bad news: I got my first ever cavaties, which was just slightly devastating, but not bad considering they were my first in 22 years. More bad news: The lab technicians had a bit of trouble extracting blood, so I left the doctors office that morning with about 5 needle holes in my arms. The good news was all the doctors found me to be in healthy shape (both physically and mentally). My thoughts at this point were: "Well for all this trouble, I'd better get in..."

February 2009: More medical stuff
A few follow up medical things were necessary for me to be medically cleared. Yay! More blood tests! Although I now know that CBC stands for "Complete Blood Count", so I'm that much more into Grey's Anatomy now, not.

The good news came that I was officially medically and legally cleared about a month later. This also means that the US gov has my fingerprints on file, so no more bank robbing or other exciting illegal activities ;)

May 2009: Follow Up Essays
Apparently the PC placement office didn't like my essay on cross-cultural adaptation using my experience developing different roles on stage as an actor. So I had to rewrite this essay. Additionally, they needed proof of my BA degree, and some other resume/job experience info. Almost there? Hopefully...

June 2009: Invititation
One week after graduation, I received an letter - rather a 2 lbs package - inviting me to serve as a PCV (Peace corps volunteer) in Senegal, West Africa as a business counselor. This was deliverd only 7 weeks before departure.

August 2009: Departure
I'm now about 4 days from departure. I'm excited, intrigued, nervous, scared, sad, and not packed yet. My emotions vary day-to-day, hour-to-hour. Current emotion of the hour: Nervous. However, I'm almost finished buying things off my packing list and all my paper is pretty much completed, so that's somewhat calming.

Enough for now, time to pack! Thanks for reading :)

Byron Yee
Peace Corps Trainee - Senegal, 2009


I now have an account on Skype: thebyronyee.

It's kind of ironic that I'm preparing to go to a developing country, which in turn is sparking me to make personal technological steps, such as blogs and webcams.

Byron Yee
Peace Corps Trainee (2009)- Senegal

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Blogging: A new frontier

I don't consider myself to be technologically impaired, however I do feel a little behind times. Congratulations, Byron just set up his first ever blog...