Bearcats on the Road

Bocas to Darien: Three Years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Panama

Posted by Abby Bryant on Thu, Apr 30, 2015 @ 09:31 AM

Abby Bryant teaches business in Darien, Panama

One of my favorite perks of being a Peace Corps volunteer in Panama is the opportunity I have to travel throughout the country to facilitate business trainings in other volunteers' sites. Since I'm on a pretty tight budget, longer trips take a little more planning, and a few months ago I was finally able to visit one of my new favorite provinces - Darien.

While the Darien is infamous for wild jungles, drug traffickers, and being one of the only impassible land border crossings in the world, I see it quite differently. My visit to the Darien was filled with productive trainings, beautiful sites, and incredibly sweet locals who made sure that not a moment went by without my belly being filled to it's highest capacity. Obviously, we got along great.

Though the main point of the trip was to teach business to several indigenous artisan groups, I also had somewhat of an ulterior motive...

The Peace Corps has volunteers in just about every region of Panama and though the country isn't much bigger than South Carolina, it takes a lot of work and travel to support over 200 volunteers in 9 very different and distinct provinces. Since our office staff is limited in both personnel and location (the office is in Panama City, which is up to 14 hours of travel from the most remote sites), each province has a Regional Leader.

Regional Leaders (RLs) are 3rd year volunteers selected by the Country Director to work in a variety of roles within each province. RLs locate and prepare communities to be future Peace Corps sites, offer organizational and emotional support to volunteers, assist with safety and security issues, act as liaisons between Peace Corps and partner government and NGO agencies, and host regional meetings for volunteers, staff, and agencies every four months.

Abby Bryant in indigenous dress of Embera tribe, Panama

Though I have always loved working with the Bocas RLs, I didn't start considering the job for myself until a few months ago. Similar to the thought process that led me to the Peace Corps in the first place, I began outlining what I wanted for myself personally and professionally when my service ends in July/August of this year.  

I love living in the jungle, but I'm also quite ready to have some modern amenities back. Electricity? A refrigerator? Smoothies?? Internet?! Ah, yes. I'm quite ready for those. But am I ready to give up this beautiful, multi-cultural experience I'm having? Not quite yet.

The more research I did, the more I realized that the Regional Leader position was just what I wanted. I would get to live in a regional capital with access to most of the amenities that I'm missing, work in a more official and professional role with the national office and local and international government agencies, and still have frequent travel to the remote Peace Corps and potential Peace Corps sites I love so much.

Abby Bryant is a Peace Corps volunteer living in Panama

So how does the Darien play into that? Once I decided to apply, I knew that during my interview I'd be asked about what region I wanted to work in. While they obviously prefer to have RLs work in the same region they served in, there's usually some shifting around due to candidates and their work styles and preferences. Since I knew one of my best Peace Corps friends from Bocas was also applying and wanted to stay in Bocas, I took that as an opportunity to look around and think a little more about where I would want to spend my 3rd year in Panama.  

Panama's cultural diversity beautiful ecological landscape make that quite a hard choice, but when I thought about which province intrigued me the most, it became quite easy- the Darien. However, having never visited the area, it seemed pretty naive to ask to move there, hence my tour of the area.

And herein lies the big news - An incredible week of travel and a great interview later, I'm very excited to accept my new position as the Darien Regional Leader and can't wait to move out there and get started in July. Though my new job won't affect my current position at all, it does mean that I'll be in Panama a year longer than I thought. I know that that's bittersweet news to my friends and family back home, but I'm sure that a month-long U.S. trip in December will help that a little bit.

Accepting the new job has made the end of my service in Bocas feel a lot more concrete, and that's bittersweet for me as well. I have loved the time I've had here and look forward to another great year!  

Abby Bryant teaches business and baking in Darien, Panama

Topics: Peace Corps, Panama, Volunteer Abroad, Abby Bryant, life after college, Business Seminar

Continuing My Turkish Adventure 2015!

Posted by Patrick Coyle on Thu, Mar 26, 2015 @ 01:53 PM

Greetings again, dear guest! <------ (Our tour guides would constantly use the phrases dear guests/friends)

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Now, I have quite the story to tell: a story about four students, four faculty, and the wives of two faculty members.

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What could this story possibly be about? Well look below and if you can name the country highlighted in green, then you already know!

 

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(For those who did not know/read the first post, that country is Turkey!)

Lets go over some basic information:

- We were in Turkey for eight days. 
- We spent 50 hours travelling to Turkey, around Turkey, and back from Turkey.
- The trip was extremely INEXPENSIVE! We were setup in numerous high quality hotels including the Izmir Sheraton, a resort in Cappadocia, and the VIP administrative suites of Turkey's top high school (Fatih Koleji). 

 

What did we do in Turkey?

- We went to three family dinners, all organized through the Pittsburgh Turkish Cultural Center which is alligned with the Hizmet Movement, an organization seeking a democratic and secular future for Turkey. 

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- We visited three universities:

  • Fatih University (Very conservative, most of the women wore headscarfs.) - Istanbul
  • Gediz University (Extremely western, almost none of the women wore headscarfs.) - Izmir
  • Meliksah University (Centrist, some of the women wore headscarfs and others did not.) - Kayseri

- We also went to Ephesus, the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul (along with many other bazaars throughout the country, such as the one in Izmir) , Mary's House (I poked it), Topkapi Palace and a plethora of other cultural landmarks. 

Here are some pictures from Ephesus

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(Cats are everywhere in Turkey, the Turks love cats.)  

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(If you like animals then Turkey is the place to be, even the strays are friendly.) 

Some fun facts:

- We met one of the top ten richest men in Turkey.
- The Turks eat soup with basically every meal.
- Basketball and soccer are huge in Turkey. 

Anyways, I hope you enjoyed reading about my trip to Turkey and the many cat pictures.

Güle-Güle! (Bye!)

Topics: Turkey, Patrick Coyle, travel abroad

I Left My Heart in Ling’An

Posted by Maggie Loya on Thu, Mar 26, 2015 @ 01:32 PM

This past weekend, I was finally able to escape the city and get my first glimpse of “real China.” As beautiful as Shanghai is, I was a little bit sick of the constant noise and shoving and rude behaviors. I threw caution to the wind and decided to sign up for a weekend hiking trip to Ling’An, which is in Zhejiang Province, southwest of Shanghai.

It’s about a four and a half hour drive by bus, and we left in the evening. Three hours passed by, and I really started sweating it. I had signed up for a mountain summit hiking trip—and there were still skyscrapers and neon lights and English translations everywhere. I was tired of looking out of the window and was almost about to doze off when I saw a huge black shape rise out of nowhere and then disappear. Then, another one appeared, and I realized that these were extremely oddly-shaped mountains, rising up in between commercial districts. The mountain ridges continued to multiply until they outnumbered the buildings, but we were still on a major highway, travelling through huge cities.

We finally turned off of the highway and drove through a large, modernized town until we took a small side road. The asphalt road turned into a one-lane road, and then a gravel road, and then a dirt road; we were in for a hair-raising, twisting drive straight up into the mountains. Even the small van had difficulty making it through some of the turns. It was nearly midnight, and the fog had settled in, so we only got glimpses of tall stone cliffs and mysterious mountain ridges.

When we arrived at the guesthouse about half an hour later, we were exhausted and ready for bed. 

Maggie in a Ling'An Village

The guesthouse was extremely luxurious according to the Chinese standards I’ve adopted. We had hot water (no shower, though), beds, and electricity. We had a heater as well, and when I went to go and turn it on, I saw the largest spider I’ve ever seen outside of a zoo or a pet shop. It was about three inches across and was just chilling on the wall next to the heater. Eeva, my roommate, tried to knock it off the wall and trap it in the trashcan, but it lost some legs in the process and she had to kill it with a shoe. I was watching and providing emotional support the whole time—it was quite terrifying.

After the bug fiasco, we settled in for a good night’s rest. I was woken up in the morning by a very odd ringtone: a horse neighing. At first, I genuinely thought it was Eeva’s alarm, but when hers went off, I realized that there was an actual horse right outside our window. On the left is the morning view from the guesthouse:

Our group ate breakfast and set out for the hike. Our plan was to reach three summits, all about 5200ft. Starting out, we hiked through the village and then started up the mountain on a stone step path.

The Ling'An VillageThe beautiful mountains of Ling'An

This is where the major issue started. I had been coughing for almost two weeks at this point, and I was still having some trouble recovering. I supposed that the fresh air and exercise would help me get over my cold. On the hike, though, whenever I tried to take a deep breath, I would have a coughing fit and then lose my breath. Within half an hour, I knew I couldn’t continue. One of our guides had to take me back to the guesthouse, and the rest of the hikers continued on without me.

At this point, I was in extremely low spirits. I love hiking, and I’ve never been unable to finish a trek. I was angry at myself and my lungs and all of the people who told me that I should’ve gone to the doctor a week ago. The Chinese guide who took me back, though, was so kind. Her English name was “Twelve.” (Chinese-English names are often very unique—I’ve also met a Bumblebee and an Echo.) She took me to some paths and we hiked up a hill to a bamboo forest. We didn’t see any pandas, so I decided to pretend that I was one:

Maggie Loya is a Panda!

We went back to the village for lunch, and the sun was shining. The fog had cleared, and the mountains were incredibly stunning. It was such a clear, peaceful, beautiful place.

The village of Ling'An

The skies were bright blue, vibrant yellow flowers grew in huge patches in the valley and on the mountains, and walnut trees were just starting to bud. No matter where you were in the village, you could hear the rushing water of the river and the many mountain streams that fed into it. I forgot about all of Shanghai’s dirt and pollution and rudeness, and I wanted to just stay in the valley forever.

Actually, I ended up leaving the valley within two hours. While we were eating lunch, a Chinese couple joined us. We had a great time; I got to practice my limited Chinese and they got to practice their limited English, although Twelve had to translate most of the conversation. Tōng and her husband ended up inviting me to their home for the afternoon, so Twelve and I got in their car and drove an hour and a half with them to their home. I met Tōng ‘s mother, younger sister, and son, and then we all ate a huge dinner.

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That evening, we had to go back to the village, and we got there just in time to join the others at the bonfire. The night sky was filled with stars. It was the perfect ending to a perfect, if unexpected, day.

The next morning, my cold was even worse, and I was miserable and unable to do any hiking. We left in the afternoon and travelled back to Shanghai. I’ve been home for over 24 hours now, but I am still missing the countryside. I never could have predicted the things that happened this weekend. I didn’t reach any mountain summits, but I met a wonderful family and spent the day with a very talented guide. I got to see the bamboo forest and take beautiful pictures of the mountains. I got to walk through fields of flowers and eat delicious fresh foods. I had to say goodbye to Ling’An, but it won’t be for the last time. This is the first of my many adventures outside of Shanghai!

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Note: In China, it is a cultural insult to refuse an invitation to a stranger’s home, because you honor them by being a guest. In America, this is a great way to get kidnapped. Please don’t try this at home. 

Topics: study abroad, China, Maggie Loya, Shanghai

Turkish Adventure 2015!

Posted by Patrick Coyle on Wed, Mar 18, 2015 @ 03:42 PM

Merhaba! Benim adim Patrick. (Hello! My name is Patrick.)

Benim yaşım ondokuz.  (I am nineteen.)

I am a Freshman management major and I recently went to Turkey for Spring break! 

Patrick Coyle in Turkey

 

Where am I from?

East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania!

Stroudsburg, PA

Why did I choose Saint Vincent College?

It looks like Hogwarts and the business school is fantastic too... but mainly because it looks like Hogwarts.

What on-campus activities do I participate in?

Well, I am the secretary of Mythopoeic Society, we discuss works written by J.R.R.Tolkien, H.P. Lovecraft, and others. I am also a member of Pizza and Politics because what more could one want than pizza with a healthy discussion of current events? More pizza, because one can never have enough pizza. Finally, I am a photographer for the school's public relations office. 

Do I have any hobbies?

Learning Turkish.

  •  Beginning in 2016, the school will begin to offer intermediate level Turkish language classes. As you can tell, I am rather excited. 

Photography.

  • I plan to start a sole-member limited liability corporation over the summer, focused on photography-based services and products. 

Poetry.

  • I was once told that my poetry positively influenced someone.

Obscure video games.

  • Games like Kerbal Space Program, World War II Online: Battleground Europe, Project Zomboid, Mount and Blade, and others. 

Becoming the best person I can possibly be. 

  • College is about self improvement! 

 

Now that you know me, I guess I can explain why I was in Turkey and what I did there. 

However, I'll leave you in suspense until my next post!  

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Topics: Spring Break, Turkey, Patrick Coyle

So…What’s China Really Like? Culture Shock in Shanghai

Posted by Maggie Loya on Wed, Mar 11, 2015 @ 11:25 AM

It’s been a while since my last post, and a lot has happened. I’ve started classes and plan to start my internship with Westinghouse next week. I’ve done quite a bit of sightseeing around the city.

Finally, about three days ago… I got sick. I’m currently bundled up in a coat and scarf in the lobby of my dorm, because the internet isn’t working in my room, and I have a lot of things to do before I take a nap this afternoon.

In the next few weeks, you’ll get to hear about my classes and sightseeing trips and other fun experiences. This post, though, will be about one of the most relevant travel topics: culture shock in Shanghai. I was warned about culture shock before I left for China. The culture here in Shanghai is different, to be sure—but nothing quite prepared me for the odd things I experience every day. Here are five things that I never would have expected:

1. People wear leather pants. No, really. The fashion crazes here involve either puffed ski jackets or leather pants (and sometimes the two combined).

2. Rules are for wimps, especially when those rules involve designated smoking, spitting, and bathroom areas. You will see everything in an average Shanghai street, and I mean EVERYTHING. On the third day here, John and I were walking down the market street near our dorm, and we saw a man air-blow his snot across the street while riding his bicycle. Let me just repeat that: he blew his nose. In mid-air. While steering a bike with one hand. It was weird.

I don’t have a picture of this incident, just to let you know. I do have this:

Culture Shock in Shanghai: Ignoring Rules

3. Going to the grocery store is a whole adventure on its own. It’s okay, though; if you are feeling homesick, you can just pick up a box of Oreos or a bag of Lays potato chips. Those should be normal—right?

Peach and Grape-flavored Oreos - only in Shanghai

Guess not. I didn’t buy the peach and grape-flavored Oreos. I didn’t buy the “Italian Red Meat Flavored” Lays potato chips, either. If you are reading this from the United States, please think of me and treasure your snack foods while you can, because if you travel to China, there’s no knowing what you’ll get.

The Year of the Sheep in Shanghai4. Chinese people really seem to like their cartoon animals. Some of the things I’ve seen are incredibly disturbing. If you thought Barney and Teletubbies were scary, think again. As if that wasn’t bad enough—it’s the Year of the Ram/Sheep, and everything is sheep-themed. 

5. I’ve quickly gotten used to most of the strange experiences I have on a daily basis, but I still haven’t gotten used to the staring. Even in a gigantic metropolis such as Shanghai, people still stare at foreigners. They don’t just glance, either. There have been several two-hour metro rides during which multiple people will stare at me (and John) the entire time. I honestly didn’t know I could be that interesting—and I still haven’t gotten used to the attention.

The questions I get are interesting too: why aren’t you fat? Why don’t you have blonde hair? Why are you so tall? (I’m only 5’3”). I don’t think I had many expectations about China before I got here, but the Chinese definitely have expectations about America, both good and bad. Some people that I’ve met want to move to the United States as soon as they save up enough money. Others don’t have a very high opinion about our country, as shown by a graffiti drawing that John and I found on a wall in Qibao:

Graffiti in Shanghai

Overall, though, it’s been a wonderful experience so far, and I can’t wait for my next adventure. I plan to escape the city sometime soon and visit a slightly quieter environment for a day or two. Living in a city of thirty million people is exciting, to be sure, but I do miss the outdoor beauty of the Laurel Highlands and Saint Vincent College.

I will be recovering from this cold for the next few days, and hopefully I’ll be able to share some more of my experiences soon. Zaijian!

Topics: Maggie Loya, Shanghai, Culture Shock

Raw Prawns and Other Shanghai Aventures

Posted by Maggie Loya on Thu, Feb 19, 2015 @ 04:04 PM

I hopelessly stared at the four grey shrimp-like creatures, and they stared back with black, lifeless eyes. A warm pot of soup was the only other indication that these prawns were indeed meant as food.

Prawn or no Prawn? Maggie Loya's First Shanghai ExperienceJohn, my travel partner, glanced over at my meal. “Are those cooked?”

I poked one tentatively with a finger, and it left a trail of fishy slime on my hand. “I don’t think so…” Glancing around for support, I searched for an instructional pamphlet or even another diner who had ordered this particular dish. I found no help, and thoughts of disgrace and insults were filling my head. My sleep-deprived brain struggled between two options: make a fool out of myself and potentially offend the restaurant owner or suck it up and eat the nasty prawn.

“Maybe prawns are a different color in Asia. Maybe it really is cooked. Is this sanitary?” I took a deep breath, peeled off the shell, removed the legs and head (the eyes seemed to admonish me), and ate the whole prawn in one bite.

“Well, that wasn’t too bad,” I thought, taking a gulp of the soup. I reached forward to devour my next prawn victim, and the waitress arrived—carrying two plates of uncooked rice noodles, raw mushrooms, rare beef, and thick, inedible kelp. She murmured something unintelligible in Mandarin, and turned a tiny knob located behind my soup pot. The broth began boiling, and she motioned from the plates to the pot.

I was supposed to cook my own food.

*****

image2John and I had ended up at the hot pot restaurant after over sixteen hours in a plane. It was a small miracle that I even made it to Pittsburgh International Airport in the first place; I had been weighing the advantages of jumping out of my roommate’s car and begging for Academic Affairs’ forgiveness with the disadvantages of ditching John and destroying my pride. It had been a close battle, but I finally made it to the gate. Even after we had travelled to Dallas and our plane was taxiing out to the runway to leave for Shanghai, John and I looked at each other in terror and asked, “Think it’s too late to run?”

The minute we left the Shanghai airport, though, I was sold. I was no better than a kid, gawking at the huge buildings and not wanting to sleep. I was finally ready for the adventure.

Where does this leave us, fellow adventurers? To begin, last night I slept on a wooden pallet with a padded sheet as my “mattress.” This wasn’t a shortcoming on my part; I think that was actually just the bed for temporary housing. I also have no idea how to work the HVAC unit, so I spent last night bundled in two coats and sweatpants, wrapped up in my Guardians of the Galaxy fleece. Everything kind of smells gross, and I’m afraid to know how badly I smell too. I can’t figure out the shower (who knew these things could be so complicated?!). There isn’t really a shower floor either…it’s literally just a drain in my bathroom floor next to the toilet.

Maggie Loya's Balcony, overlooking Shanghai

Would I have it any other way? Nope.

This finally brings me to the most recent discovery—my ninth floor room has a balcony (and a much nicer bed). It’s time to go find some breakfast and relax on my beautiful little porch overlooking the city; I think this is what they call heaven. Zaijian!

Shanghai up close

Topics: study abroad, Maggie Loya, Shanghai

Ni Hao! Studying Abroad in Shanghai

Posted by Maggie Loya on Wed, Feb 11, 2015 @ 11:57 AM

“How do you feel about studying abroad in Shanghai for five months?”

I've been asked this many, many times over the past few months, and my answers have changed drastically.

  • Three months ago: "I CAN'T WAIT!!!"
  • Two months ago: "I have no idea what I'm doing with my life, and I'm terrified."
  • One month ago: "I can't believe this is actually happening. I'm so excited!"
  • This week: "Yeah, I'm leaving on Saturday for a foreign country. Can't speak the language. Probably going to be a pretty cool experience. Is this what they call shock?"

At this point, I have no idea what to expect, but I am ready to take on the world. I know you want to hear about my exciting trip, but I'll start off my blog with a little introduction. My name is Maggie, and I’m a junior at Saint Vincent College. Two and a half years ago, I moved almost a thousand miles away from my family in beautiful St. Augustine, Florida, and started college as a Bearcat. I'm double-majoring in management and psychology, and this past semester, the McKenna School of Business gave me the wonderful opportunity to study abroad in Shanghai as a student and as a Westinghouse intern.

Fun Facts:

  • I've never written a blog.
  • I'm an SVC tour guide, and I basically live in the Admissions office.
  • My favorite animal is the panda.
  • I'm an art fanatic, a writer, and an outdoors enthusiast.
  • I've never traveled outside of the Unites States.

With that said, welcome to my blog! I can't really tell you what to expect, but I can promise that it will be an adventure. I will try at least one bizarre street meal (pics or it didn’t happen), I will visit unique and beautiful places, and I will tell many stories from the other side of the world. I hope to post something every week, so you will have plenty to read.

I only have three days until my flight. Shanghai, here I come!

Maggie Loya is studying abroad in Shanghai

Zài jiàn for now! 再见!

Topics: study abroad, internship, Maggie Loya, Shanghai

Micro Finance in Panama

Posted by Abby Bryant on Wed, Jan 28, 2015 @ 03:43 PM

Micro Finance in Panama

Agribusiness Seminar in Panama

As the National Agribusiness Coordinator, I'm frequently invited to facilitate business seminars throughout Panama, and a few weeks ago I was especially excited to facilitate an agribusiness education seminar for recipients of micro-finance grants from MIDA (the Panamanian Ministry of Agriculture.)

Ecstatic to be doing very official-sounding work, my Agribusiness co-coordinator Elena and I made the trip to Santiago, Veraguas to meet with representatives from MIDA and the 30 or so seminar participants.

Each attendee was representing a small farmer's group from his or her rural town that had recently received a business development grant from MIDA, and would be implementing agricultural projects to produce products such as organic meats, eggs, vegetables and/or fruits.  

Basic Business Education

A few years ago, the agribusiness coordinators developed a seminar series that we've continued to improve each year. The series is a complete set of lessons and workbook activities for themes like accounting, marketing, product (line) improvement, personal and group finance, farm inventories and costs of production. Since almost all of the preparation and practice was done ahead of time (Elena and I have both given the charlas throughout Panama during our first year as volunteers), we were free to take things easy and focus on getting to know the producers and what specific business themes we could help them with.

Business Demonstration

Even though the training was a mandatory stipulation to receiving their grants, I was really impressed with the positive attitudes and participation we received from both men and women. They brought up really great topics like how to manage group finances and pay dividends and how they could overcome logistical issues through marketing and vendor relationships.

Throughout the week, we received tons of positive feedback, and by the end of our seminar many of the attendees were asking how they could get their own Peace Corps volunteers! It was great to see Peace Corps in action in a different setting than usual, and reminded me how excited and proud I am to continue to work with such a great organization!

Peace Corps business education

Topics: Peace Corps, Panama, Abby Bryant, Business Seminar

What do Peace Corps Agribusiness Volunteers do in Panama?

Posted by Abby Bryant on Mon, Nov 03, 2014 @ 11:24 AM

When I think back to the months leading up to my Peace Corps service, I can still clearly remember how concerned I was about my future work. I was passionate about business, helping people, Spanish, and travel and had asked my recruiter to find me a placement where I could use all of those skills and hobbies. 

Since only 20 percent of volunteers are currently serving in Spanish-speaking countries and Community Economic Development is one of the smaller programs within the Peace Corps (Education, Health, and Environmental programs are all larger) I gave the placement team quite a task. When they assigned me to serve as a Sustainable Agricultural Systems Extension Agent in Panamá, I called to let them know they had likely mixed me up with another candidate. Other than living in the country, I had zero experience in agriculture. 

What I didn’t yet know was that Peace Corps Panama’s Sustainable Agricultural Systems, SAS, Program was in the process of increasing the business/entrepreneurial advising work that volunteers take part in in order to work towards the program’s goal of improving agribusiness practices in rural Panama (The other two goals relate to improved staple crops and agroforestry practices).

Though it may vary year-by-year, recently the Panama placement teams have been selecting about 20 SAS volunteers with more traditional agricultural experience, and 5 or so with a background in business. 

Teaching Agribusiness to Panama Residents

And though the work Peace Corps agribusiness volunteers do will vary tremendously by community and location throughout the country, here are some of the most common projects and responsibilities we might take part in:

  • Giving personal and group financial training
  • Training interested group or community members in computer programs like Word, Excel, Powerpoint and Email
  • Assisting with group organization
  • Training on the function and roles of board and group members
  • Official group establishment support (There’s a long paperwork process to this here in Panama)
  • Advising the producers on how to improve their products
    • Value can be added by improving the production process or by lengthening the production process: 2nd rate cacao -> 1st rate cacao; cacao -> chocolate bars
  • Directing producers on how to manage and/or improve their product line
  • Assisting with logistical challenges (We live in some pretty out-there places!)
  • Connecting producers with potential buyers
  • Teaching producers how to maintain positive and sustainable client relationships

Teaching Agribusiness in Panama

As you may have noticed from my posts, many of us like to work both in and out of our communities. Interested volunteers can apply for Work Related Leave to travel to other Peace Corps sites to help with casual informative sessions, charlas, in just about any topic relating to agribusiness/money/finance. For example, I’ve recently been helping several community water groups to organize their resources and financially plan for the implantation and maintenance of their new aqueduct systems. Though it’s not quite “agri-business,” the SAS volunteers in Panama are some of the only ones who receive relevant training during PST. 

So what about if you’re really into business and especially love working with new communities? If that’s your preference, you could apply to be a National Agribusiness Coordinator for the SAS Program! Usually formed as an East/West pair, the Peace Corps Agribusiness Coordinators are given additional support and a travel budget in order to spread agribusiness knowledge throughout the country. Duties include:

  • Train incoming volunteers in relevant agribusiness practices in Panama during their PST (Pre-Service Training) and IST (In-Service Training)
  • Develop positive relationships with related government agencies and NGO’s
  • Support volunteers in their in-site work through site visits, seminar assistance, and additional training
  • Develop new training materials and techniques to be shared through Peace Corps Panama’s Agribusiness Manual
  • Serve as the point person for volunteers and staff for any questions or resources related to agribusiness

Interacting with locals as a Peace Corps Volunteer

If you’re a future volunteer with an interest in business or a SAS volunteer coming to Panama, there are two important takeaways I want you to have.

First, just because you’re not enrolled in a business program does not mean you won’t get to do business related projects during your service. One of the great things about Peace Corps is that it is what you make it. If you want to work in business, do it! 

Secondly, if you’re a SAS volunteer, I can almost guarantee you that some business-related project will come up throughout your service, even if you’re intent on working 100% on the more agricultural side of things. So, don’t zone out during your agribusiness trainings and don’t be afraid to ask one of the agribusiness volunteers for help if you need it; Goodness knows we’ll need yours when it’s time to fertilize the yucca!   

Fertilizing the Yucca in Panama

Topics: Peace Corps, Panama, Volunteer Abroad, Abby Bryant

Saint Vincent Bearcats in Northern Ireland

Posted by Natalie Ambrozic on Mon, Aug 25, 2014 @ 02:11 PM

My last week in Europe was absolutely fantastic and I was even able to hang out with some fellow Bearcats!

My friend Rachel, who lives in Belfast with her family, invited me to stay at her house when she heard about my internship in London. My other friend Mary was visiting her the same week I was, which made the trip even more incredible. I booked a flight out of London that left at 7:30am, so I took the tube late at night with all of my luggage and slept overnight in Heathrow Airport to avoid paying an £80 taxi fare the next morning (the tube is closed from 11pm to 5:30am, so I would not have been able to make my flight the next morning if I did not stay overnight). It was totally worth it, since the US equivalent to the cab fare is $132!

Northern Ireland is definitely the most gorgeous place I have ever seen. I was amazed at how beautiful and green everything was. The first thing we did when I arrived was visit the Titanic museum in Belfast. The Titanic was built in Belfast and the residents like to joke that “it was built by Irishmen, but sunk by an Englishman.” We then ventured up to Portballintrae, a picturesque town by the coast, and spent a couple days there. Rachel says that this is her favorite place and it’s obvious to me why. Everything is so beautiful and calming there. We also saw the Giant’s Causeway while we were at the coast, which is a mound of 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, which were formed in the aftermath of an ancient volcanic eruption. According to legend, however, the causeway was built by an Irish giant named Finn MacCool so that he could cross the sea to Scotland, which you can see from the coastline. There are huge green hills that lead up to the causeway and make the beach scenery even more breathtaking. This was such an incredibly stunning place and I was awestruck by the beauty of it all.

Driving to Portballintrae

Rainbow while driving to Portballintrae

Portballintrae

Portballintrae

The path to the Giant's Causeway

The path to the Giant's Causeway

The Giant's Causeway

The Giant's Causeway

Mary, Rachel, and I at the Giant's Causeway

Mary, Rachel, and I at the Giant's Causeway

We also visited Derry, which is officially named Londonderry, and toured the historic city walls. These walls were used in battles many centuries ago and still remain standing today. We returned to Belfast the next day and took a bus tour around the city (which was very windy on the top of the bus!). One of the things that particularly surprised me was that the peace walls were still being used in the urban communities in Belfast and Derry. These walls were erected in 1969 to separate the Unionist and Nationalist communities during the outbreak of “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland. The separate neighborhoods still erect either the British or Irish flag to show their allegiance and the tension is still present, even though the fighting stopped many years ago. It was haunting to see the remnants of the past in the graffiti in both cities, but encouraging to see how the communities are learning to live with each other peacefully. We also visited a monument to honor the soldiers who died in WWI, which overlooks the entire city, and Queen's University, where Rachel studies. 

Historic walls of Derry

Historic walls of Derry

Graffiti murals in Belfast

Graffiti murals in Belfast

Mary, Rachel, and I on the windy bus tour

Mary, Rachel, and I on the windy bus tour

View from the WWI monument

View from the WWI monument

Queen's University of Belfast

Queen's University of Belfast

I have been back in America for a little over a week now and I can hardly believe that I had such an incredible summer. Looking back, I am shocked at how many things I was able to do and how many places I was able to go. I can happily say that I have absolutely no regrets about my experience abroad and I am so happy to have had this opportunity. I want to thank my family for all of their support throughout the past year, Sara Hart for helping me organize my amazing trip, and Rachel Macartney and her wonderful family for inviting me to stay with them. I am now about to start my senior year at Saint Vincent and I couldn’t be more excited! All of the opportunities that can be found at this amazing school have truly changed my life and, after seeing the world, I am so happy to call Saint Vincent my home.

Natalie

me at causeway resized 600

Topics: study abroad, internship, London, Natalie Ambrozic, Ireland, international marketing

About this Blog

In Bearcats on the Road, students chronicle their lives while studying abroad or completing internships away from campus.

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About the Authors

Savannah Butler is immersing herself in Taiwanese culture this summer. The marketing major will learn Mandarin during her trip. 

Austin Summers is a junior marketing major at Saint Vincent. This summer, he's going on a tour of Europe - traveling to London, Paris, Milan and Florence to study fashion marketing.

Natalie Ambrozic is a senior marketing major at Saint Vincent. This summer, she'll intern as an assistant publicist with Premier Entertainment in London, England.

Stephanie Rukavina, a junior early childhood education major, is interning at a Montessori School in Dublin, Ireland this summer.

Abby Bryant graduated from Saint Vincent College with degrees in Marketing and International Business in 2013. That June, she joined the Peace Corps to work as an Agri-business Volunteer in Panama, teaching business practices to local farmers. 

Michael Cerchione is a junior management major at Saint Vincent. He studied abroad in Florence, Italy this spring semester. 

Michael Orange is a sophomore biology major at Saint Vincent. During the 2013/2014 winter break, he ventured into Mexico for a month-long study abroad experience.

Katie Kohler is a junior communication major at Saint Vincent College. In Spring 2013, she studied abroad in Australia, and wrote about her journey on this blog.