Friday, November 30, 2007

why peace corps? why pcmi? why pcmi at isu?

I realize that I never really explained what made me sign up for a PCMI program or the Peace Corps. I get that question a lot, so it might be helpful to write out here. It all started when I was an undergraduate at the University of Georgia. I felt that after college, I wanted to do a year of service of some sort be it TFA, Jesuit volunteer corps, americorps, etc. i had not really thought much about the peace corps at that point because i didn't really have a global perspective on the world. i mean i knew the rest of the world was out there, but i barely thought about it.

my narrow views changed my sophomore year of college when i took an economic geography course from dr. christian allen. i was exposed to a whole new range of material involving international trade, development, and globalization. based on that course, i realized that international development was something i interested in, and i actually switched my major to economics from public relations so i could learn more about it (from an economic perspective).

however, it wasn't just that course that changed things, although it was the start. that summer i left the country for the first time to travel to salango, ecuador. i participated in a study abroad program through florida altantic university. i had a wonderful time, and it wasn't just due to living in a coastal village in south america. it was the people and the culture that i learned about while i was down there that i loved so much. it may have taken me twenty years, but i had caught the travel bug.

the combination of my study abroad and newfound interest in international development sparked an interest in the peace corps. now it was on my radar, but i was by no means convinced that this was the program for me. 27 months is a really long time, and there were a lot of things in the states that i could do to help people to. i continued to explore my interests through my classes, and the next summer i was fortunate enough to travel to puno, peru and work at a state-run boy's home for eight weeks. i almost saw it as a trial run for the peace corps. if i could do eight weeks, then how bad would 120 weeks be?

in short, i loved peru just as much as i loved ecuador (or rather puno as much as salango, if you want to know why this distinction matters, i might talk about it some other time, but i feel that i have no idea what "ecuadorian culture" is like, but i have a pretty good sense of salangan culture). anyway, i loved it, the travel bug was not a temporary condition that had passed. so i cam back to uga my senior year heavily considering peace corps.

but i'm not in the peace corps right now. its six months after i graduated, and i am currently at Illinois state university in normal, il. It sure is different than georgia, but its not a foreign country. somewhere during my senior year i decided to do pcmi instead of straight peace corps.

it was a program i had considered before. a masters and the peace corps. that sounds like a sweet deal if i'd ever heard one. but did i really want more schooling. i was feeling pretty burnt out and just wanted to get it over with. one thing i had loved about my time in peru was that i wasn't in school. i didn't have homework. i didn't have tests. and i didn't have papers. did i really want to do that all over again? that was my main question i was asking myself.

one day i was talking with my friend matt, and he suggested the pcmi stuff, specifically a program in economics at wisconsin-madison that he had seen. i was interested in economics at the time, and i knew wisconsisn was a good school, so i decided to check out this pcmi thing again. this was probably in septemeber some time. i found out wisconsin ended their pcmi program although still had a fellows program. but then i started looking at what else was out there.

i somehow settled on four schools. how, i 'm not really sure. i was attracted by the economics degree offered at illinois state university, as i wanted to pursue economics at a higher level. i also decided that non-profit management would also be of interest. programs at university of washington, rutgers, and george mason made my final list. i considered university of denver, but their web site made it sound like there was not a lot of money out there, so i scratched that off my list.

at this point, i was not decided whether to do pcmi or peace corps, but the choice would be made for me if i didn't start the application process. so i took my gre's, gathered my rec letters, and did all that stuff. but i wasn't necessarily committed to doing it, i just wanted to leave my options open.

at some point, i also decided that i didn't want to pay for my masters. if this was going to cost me money, i would just do peace corps and then do a masters later, figuring my pc experience may make me competitive for scholarships and fellowships. so, money was going to be a big concern.

of the programs i applied to, i noticed something unique about the one at isu. all of the other programs were part of a bigger program. they just seemed to be a track within a department. but at isu, the program was run out of the stevenson center. there were specific administrators, offices, and support just for pcmi, fellows, and similar students. that intrigued me from the beginning.

i eventually heard back from all of the schools i applied to, although i can't remember in what specific order. isu was the only one to conduct a phone interview, and that was great. i was able to ask them questions and i felt like i was already understanding their program. i am sure the other schools would have gladly talked to me or answered my questions, but isu's attempt at outreach was a major plus.

but ultimately the decider was money. at university of washington, the assistantships were applied for on an individual basis through out the summer. so i had no way of knowing if or how much money i would get until possibly weeks before classes began. george mason offered a half tuition waiver and a small stipend for a research assistantships. rutgers didn't offer anything. isu offered a full tuition waiver and a guaranteed assistantship. the choice for me was pretty much obvious.

or at least that choice was. i still wasn't sure if pcmi was what i wanted. i wavered the entire year between pc and pcmi. eventually, i decided that a free masters by delaying the peace corps for a year was a pretty good deal. my reasons pretty much were:
1) it was free (turns out not quite free with fees, but pretty close)
2) it would be a year in the midwest, which would be a new experience for me
3) i would create a good network of peers who were also interested in development work
4) it was only a year long (i made sure i wouldn't have to come back after my pc experience, which is required at some schools.)
5) i'd most likely get a "better" assignment (ie i didn't just want to be seen as an unskilled English teacher, but there's no real guarantee i won't be assigned this)

so that's how i ended up where i am today. sitting at 301 dewey in normal where its 24 degrees outside. was it the right decision? i think so. i like my programs, i like my friends, i like where i am. but then again, i'm pretty laidback, so i would have probably liked whatever decision i chose.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Living in Normal

I've been in my PCMI program now for about a month. I moved here to Normal, Illinois in mid-August a week before my classes started. For my program, I am taking four classes, have a fifteen house a week graduate assistantship. Two of my classes are in economics and two are in community development. I am enjoying all of them so far, but at times they can be a little overwhelming. Despite all this, I've also managed to join the ISU ultimate team, so there is still free time that I can negotiate with.

Normal itself is a nice town. It's definitely no Athens in terms of music or events, but its not a bad place. I live only a few blocks from Uptown Normal (what they are calling their revitalized downtown normal) and a few more blocks from campus. The weather has begun to get a little chilly though (40 degrees in September!), but I'm looking forward to braving my first "real" winter.

In Peace Corps news, I have received both my medical and dental clearance. It was super fast for both of them. Fortunately, I did not have any hang ups. I saw one doctor and one dentist, and that was it. I know some people in the program here are having to see lots of doctors or have problems with their x-rays. Because I got it done so soon, I think I will have to have my dental x-rays redone, but that shouldn't be too bad. I was able to get it done for free the first time by using someone from the organization the PC sent as doing free dental work. It took a few calls to different people on the list, but finally someone seemed to know what I was talking about, and would do it for free. (Thanks Dr. Larry Miller!)

I can't help to compare this experience with what I would be doing if I didn't do this (straight into the Peace Corps). I'm sure that would be slightly (slightly meaning incredibly) more exciting than what I am doing now, but I will experience the excitement a year from now. Right now, I am getting to meet interesting peers who also care about development issues, learn from professionals in the field, and make new friends in Illinois. In other words, I am happy to be here rather than going straight into the Peace Corps.

Friday, July 27, 2007

In Transition/Updates

Summer is almost over. It seemed like only a week ago, I was living in Athens and graduating. Now I am almost ready to pack all my stuff and head up to Illinois. Like I normally do, I've adjusted to life in Savannah for the summer. It has been a strange period of time. For some of my friends (like Trey, Lauren, etc.) they are already doing something with TFA. For others (like Brad), they went on trips (and Karen). And then for a lot of people, our lives have been stalled out. I know what I am going to be doing for the next three years, but that doesn't start until August. I guess I had two months of freedom. So what did I do with it? I got a job at PetSmart and earned some money. Hopefully I made enough to pay for graduate school and expenses over the next year. Since I have no idea of what I will have to spend to live in Normal, it's hard to budget.

Well that's not all I did this summer. I made an awesome road trip. I had some fun with friends who came down to visit. I had fun with friends who are in Savannah. I played a bunch of frisbee, and didn't go dancing nearly enough. I read some books (although I would have liked to have read more). Thought about stuff. Gave a lot of platelets. Organized my finances. And learned how to juggle. (Well, we'll have to wait and see on that one, but right now, I'm moving in the right direction.)

I am ready to move up to Illinois though. I am ready to get my journey started. Although, I can't say I'm not nervous. I'll be moving into a house I haven't seen with people I don't know to start a program I really don't know that much about. (Although my roommates recently revealed their love of Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me, and honestly, I feel a lot more at ease). There are of course general worries about fitting in with a new group, making friends, adjusting to the climate, and keeping up with classes. But I'm not too too worried.

Onto some PC stuff. I have had my medical exam done and just need to send off the results. Well I need to get some vaccinations first, I think. That do say mandatory, so it would seem like they want those done. I am waiting to give blood a couple more times before I do that though. I have my dentist exam scheduled for next week and have been flossing religiously in preparation of that.

On my program's front, I will be a graduate assistant for the economics department. I don't know what that means, and actually won't go to orientation for that until the Friday before classes start. Research, helping in a classroom, both, something else? I don't know. I also found out that the capstone part of my program has been moved from Spring semester to summer semester or Peace Corps. I was specifically looking for a program that would not require me to be distracted from my Peace Corps experience with a major research paper. Whether this is good or not could be debated, but that's what I decided. I'm a little concerned that I may have to do that now, but that's life right. I'll roll with it and see how it turns out.

For now, I'll just enjoy the heat, humidity, and the insects a little longer. Then I'm moving up to Illinois come the 12th.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Summer Break

Last Saturday was graduation. It was a bittersweet moment. It feels so strange to be done. I am now a college graduate. I have a diploma (or will when it is mailed to me). Now I just have a summer break and then grad school starts in the fall. Crazy. I am currently trying to find a summer job that is somewhat applicable to my future career. If that doesn't work though, then I might get a job with one of my friends.

In Peace Corps news, I got my med kit in the mail last week. It says to get it done immediately, but I'm not really in a rush. I don't think it's the same for PCMI candidates. I won't leave for a year at the earliest. I feel waiting until September can be okay. I need to find out what will be covered by my insurance and what won't be. The dentist stuff is only good for a year, so I am trying to get that done near the end of summer when I am still on insurance, but not too soon that I have to get some new x-rays before I am sent off. I can't wait for actually getting it done, sending it in, and letting the fun begin. I've read some horror stories of what happens with the med kits, but some people I've talked to haven't had a problem at all. So we'll see what happens to mine, just not for a while.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Graduation and Onward

I decided to start this blog because I found the blogs of other volunteers to be very helpful when I was thinking about applying for the Peace Corps. I know that when I am abroad, this will also be a great way to keep all my family and friends updated on all the things going on in my life.

To begin, let me introduce myself. My name is Michael Hotard, and I am a senior at the University of Georgia. In a little over a week, I will be graduating with a degree in sociology and economics. I have been accepted to the PCMI program at Illinois State and will be studying Applied Economics and Community Development. I hope to actually start the Peace Corps part of that two autumns from now. I do not have a preference of where I can serve. I think everywhere will offer some awesome adventures for me.

I will write more about my application process so far and my motivations for joining in upcoming entries.