As I am sure you are all aware, this year I was selected as one of 8 bloggers from across the world to attend the Peace Corps’ Blog It Home Conference. Most of you probably kept up with my live videos on Instagram, but if you missed it here is a compilation of the week’s adventures.
After missing my flight, barely making my connection and getting lost on the Metro, I finally made it to the hotel in Washington D.C. in a little over 12 hours. I was rewarded by the pleasant surprise of having my own room with a bathtub and a king size bed softer than a cloud!
My friend Cindy, who is in D.C. as a Foreign Service Officer (you go girl!), and I went to lunch at a delicious burger joint and then shopping for long awaited treats. I enjoyed an hour long bath and prepared my materials for the week.
Monday: Peace Corps HQ
I woke up like a kid on the first day of school or Christmas, bright eyed and a little nervous. We were told to be at Peace Corps Headquarters by 8am and upon arrival we were surprised by a conference room full of our photos, country flags, and various yummy snacks! Our pictures were also on display in the lobby of the building throughout the week for all Peace Corps staff to browse.
We met the amazing third goal staff and BJ, the boss man, broke the ice with one of his hilarious jokes! Meleia and Katie, our coordinators/life savers/mommas for the week, walked us through the schedule and explained the various events.
After the welcome brief we were given a tour of Peace Corps HQ and I was so surprised by all of the flags, artifacts, and colorful art work that lined the walls. We even got to tour PC Director Carrie’s office and the conference room lined with photos of all the past directors.
It was interesting to see the floor where all the placement officers are interviewing potential candidates for service. They do 3-4 interviews a day!
My favorite part was the photo exhibit dedicated to the deaf volunteers who have served in the Peace Corps through the years.
During the tour we visited our Peru Country Desk Officer, Marcela, who also happens to have a sister currently serving in Peru!
The biggest surprise of the day came at lunchtime. We were led into a big conference room by Meleia and were surprised by a table full of delicious food and all of the Third Goal staff! It was a great chance to meet everyone and I will admit I went back for thirds.
The day ended with a welcome reception open to all Peace Corps HQ staff and I was visited by my PC sister, Adrienne who I wrote about here, and former Peru volunteer Dylan.
Tuesday: The White House & American University
The White House tour and meeting with the digital marketing staff was hands down the highlight of my week. As I walked the halls of The White House there was an energy present that I can’t begin to describe. I could feel the history all around me.
We waited outside to pass through the Secret Service security checkpoints and then had an hour to explore the East Wing where the library, china, dining hall, and First Lady’s offices are located.
Afterwards we were invited to meet with various White House Digital Marketing team members for 3 hours! We talked about photography, videography, writing, digital strategy, life lessons etc. all of which you can read about here.
It was so inspiring to hear from women who are rocking it in our industry and the struggles, successes, and adventures they’ve had over the past 8 years. The room was alive with ideas and I left feeling more motivated than ever!
The best surprise was when Tina Tchen, Michelle Obama’s Chief of Staff, stopped by to say hello and ended up talking to us about how Let Girls Learn and the Peace Corps came to be. While she spoke about the goals to improve the lives of girls around the world I was moved to tears and had a chance to then express my gratitude to her. I explained that I have seen on a first hand basis how my work as a Peace Corps volunteer had changed the lives of a few women and girls in my community, and that now with Let Girls Learn in Peru I know the sky is the limit.
In the evening we put on a recruiting event at American University and each volunteer set up a table with artifacts and food from our respective countries. We were able to answer questions from prospective volunteers and it was so fun to be able to come full circle, because I first learned about the Peace Corps through a similar event hosted at a university in Houston.
Wednesday: D.C. Public Schools/ World Wise Schools
Put me in front of a classroom of kids for the day and I am one happy camper! This was the day we divided into groups of 3 and set off to talk about how wonderful our host countries are in front of various groups of students. I was paired with Mark from Kyrgyzstan and Zack from Samoa, and boy did we know how to work the room.
Mark talked about Kyrgyz people, the nomadic culture, and taught the kids a popular dance routine. Zack described island life and the norms of living in a small town, and taught the kids how to tie a lava lava. I talked about the sierra, selva, and coastal Peruvian customs and taught the kids how to play la liga, a popular jumping game using a string. They tried on typical clothing from our countries and asked a lot of questions! One classroom was predominantly Latino and the other African American, so it was interesting to see the different types of questions and interests that each group had. Overall they thought it was so cool that after going to college the Peace Corps is another option available!
Thursday: National Geographic, HQ Presentation, & Girl Scouts
The morning started with a Nat Geo videographer meeting at their D.C. offices… not a shabby place to work everyday. The entire building is full of beautiful photos and videos, the lobby houses two galleries. There was a Yellowstone National Park exhibit in one of the galleries, and the ceiling has a 3D model of the grand canyon hanging upside down!
We talked about tips and tricks of the trade and touched on a few professional development subjects. Like the rest of the week, it was a great chance to bounce around ideas with industry professionals and get the creative juices flowing.
After the meeting and a quick raid of the gift shop, my sister met me for a super quick lunch. She came down from Philly for the last two days of the conference! We decided on Thai and after a few minutes with her I headed back to the office for our brown bag lunch with the Inter-America and Pacific team.
In the afternoon we had a packed schedule of back to back presentations; first for all Peace Corps staff and then with over 150 Girl Scouts. The Peace Corps meeting was on the impact Third Goal has had on our service. For those who don’t know, Peace Corps has three goals and the third is sharing our host country culture with all of you in the United States.
I talked about the opportunities I’ve had to connect with a lot of you through blogging, Instagram, Snapchat, and 360 Google Virtual Reality sharing. It is a new generation of Peace Corps and the opportunity we have to share unreachable cultures and make human connections between our communities and the USA is priceless!
The Girl Scouts event was focused on Let Girls Learn and promoting girls education, so I shared the story of Profesora Ruby and talked about how she sacrificed to obtain an education and eventually started a small business. We also had a lot of time for the Girl Scouts to wander around to our tables, try typical foods, and play with the different artifacts we all brought. Everyone loved the chifle, huancaina sauce, manjar and rosquitas, and canchita that I brought from Peru.
Friday: State Department & Final Wrap-Up
The last day is always a bittersweet one, we started with a morning in the State Department where we met with a panel of RPCVs who work in various departments. They talked about career options and how their Peace Corps experience has helped them network and land great jobs in their desired fields. They also talked about the UN Global Goals and how we can all do our part to contribute. It was very interesting to go from the colorful Peace Corps office to the serious and formal offices at State.
We spent the afternoon exchanging pictures, saying our goodbyes and reflecting on the great week! As a special treat Meleia recited a poem she wrote for the 50th anniversary of Peace Corps. She talked about the ups and downs of service, and of course we all ended up in tears as she spoke words that tugged at our heart strings. Then as quickly as it had come, it was over.
The good news is that all 8 of us still keep in touch on an almost daily basis, and watch out world because we will be coming at you with great content for many more years! Want to meet the bloggers? Here is a great post written by Mark.