I, Andrew, officially returned to America after a 4 year hiatus on April 28th at 12:19 pm.
My flight only took 19 minutes! Technology sure has changed since I've been away...
I'm glad to be home, and I'll be even more glad when Nicole also returns. She's currently finishing up with some test-prep classes, so she should be back in the States around mid-June. I'll withhold comments about China until she's safely in the US.
So why did I come back earlier? Well, when we signed the contract, I informed our boss that I might have to leave early to start grad school at Columbia, where the program begins in May. So, here I am. I was accepted to Columbia. More precisely, I was accepted to the Peace Corps Fellows program at Teachers College, Columbia University. Through this program, I take an intensive summer course, then I begin teaching high school biology full time in September, while simultaneously taking night classes to get my MA. This program lasts 3 years, so all my CA peeps, I'll see you again in 2014!!
My first stop back in the States was LA, to catch up on the family. It was good seeing my brothers, but, honestly, I think I got enough exposure to last another 3 years :) If absence makes the heart grow fonder, presence makes the heart remember past annoyances.
I helped my mom pack up the house, especially focusing on the disaster that is "Nicole and Andrew's stuff".
I was very proud to see my dad invested as a federal bankruptcy judge. His courtroom is cool, and his office is huge.
He took me and his old friend Paul on a trip in his new Jeep Rubicon, 4-wheeling all over the place.
I managed to get in some quality time with Nana and Steve, where they showed me the awesome renovations of their place, and we got to eat the mountainously cheesy salads at Espiaus.
I even managed to visit the annual community fair at Santa Monica's Clover Park.
I adopted a worm. His name is Wormy.
I also enjoyed going to the Downtown LA Artwalk, thanks to Shalimar and Bryant. It's a cool scene and you should check it out if you haven't already. There were lots of people walking around, lots of gourmet food trucks (which are apparently all the rage now). In addition, you might just see some art on the art walk.
I also got to spend some good guy-time with my buds, Matt and Maurice. We played a fun zombie card game and saw the new movie Thor, which is good if you like comic book movies (which we do). After the movie, I feasted on chili cheese fries at Johnny Rockets, and we got to see the new Santa Monica Place (The old one was an aging closed mall. The new one is a hip, trendy open air mall).
Me and the Guys
After imposing on the best friend a guy could ever have (he stayed up all night to drive me to the airport at 4am. Thanks Matt!), I flew to New York, which took way longer than 19 minutes. My loving cousin, Rebecca, picked me up and took me to her place. We then went to dinner at O'Neill's Irish Pub, where one of her friends was having a birthday party. There was live Irish music, decent fish and chips, and decent cider. All in all, it was a great night.
The following day, I surveyed the Columbia campus, then hit up Times Square. I met up with Rebecca and we toured Battery Park, saw Lady Liberty herself from afar, then hit up Ground Zero and Wall Street. It was sobering looking at the construction at the World Trade Center, and, as Rebecca pointed out, amazing to note how little damage was done, comparatively, because the towers imploded instead of falling over. It was also nice seeing the new Freedom Tower rising up like a phoenix from the ashes.
Columbia and Rodin's famous statue of The Constipated
Rebecca and me in Times Square
Freedom Tower rising from the ashes. Supposedly it'll be 1,776 feet tall.
I'm the kinda guy who takes the bull by the horns.
In case you were wondering what the butt looks like. I did.
This guy's really worried about getting a flat in New York
Monday was the start of my program. I met all the other fellows (all 19 of us). We played the obligatory ice breaker games, but, as we were allowed to create our own, they were more fun than usual. My team created one called "The Four Winds Blow" in which everyone's sitting in a circle and there's one person standing (with no corresponding chair). The standing person says "The four winds blow for people who ..." and you can put whatever you want in the "...". To those whom the "..." applies, they must get up out of their chair and find a new one, a la musical chairs. The person left chair-less then takes over. Rule: you can't sit in your own chair or the chair next to you. It was fun, especially with things like "The four winds blow for people who were in Peace Corps" (which was everybody).
I'm one of two fellows that is going to teach science. Most of the others are Social Studies and English. One of the coolest things about being in a program with other PCVs is that you don't have to feel self-conscious about talking about where you've been and what you've done. It's also normal to talk about the random diseases you've all had (giardia, malaria, amoebas to name a few), and the weird parts of animals you were too polite not to eat (boiled sheep head, raw meat dipped in bile, fried frogs). It's also relaxing to not have to pretend that Peace Corps Volunteers actually work. I was surprised, though, that the vast majority of the other fellows were actually teaching full time during their service, unlike me, who only did it as a side thing. They actually had nearly normal work hours. Despite coming from all over the world (from Mongolia to Africa-East, West, and South, to South America to Pacific Island Paradises), you'd be surprised to see how similar all of our experiences were.
The coolest part of orientation was the Scavenger Hunt. We were sent in teams to take pictures of a bunch of different things throughout New York, from Wall Street to Union Square to Central Park to Harlem. My team almost won, but, due to a recount, came in second.
We had a nice welcome barbecue to meet all the current and past fellows.
I finally moved out of Rebecca's place in the Bronx and into my dorm room at the International House (it's where my dad stayed when he went to Columbia Law School). It was raining heavily the day I moved, so I was soaked to the bone as I was checking in. Now that I've had a couple of days to organize and reorganize my room, do laundry, and buy essential supplies like a wine glass and soap (in that order), I'm starting to mingle with the other denizens of the I House. There're activities so we can get to know each other, so yesterday I went out to the American Museum of Natural History and saw the big dinosaur skeletons, an awesome movie about the Big Bang narrated by Liam Nieson (a.k.a. God/Aslan), located in what looked to be the Death Star, and a ginormous blue whale sculpture in the Ocean Hall. We stayed until closing time, at which point a couple of us took a trip to walk along the High Line (a derelict raised railroad platform, abandoned for decades, that used to run straight into a factory in the Meatpacking district, now turned into a beautiful pedestrian park). We also wandered through Greenwich Village (and saw Rod Steward eating at a restaurant), Little Italy and into Chinatown, where we had some awesome dumplings for dinner. It was the first, and only, non-rainy, sunny day I've had, so I'm glad I made the most of it.
I House people walking to the museum
The Death Star
A view of the Empire State Building from the High Line
A view of the Statue of Liberty from the High Line
The following day (today), I went on another trip through the I House to Japan Day at Central Park, where I got to do some origami, get my face painted, get my name done in Konji, dance a Japanese dance, watch robot-sumo matches, and learn some Japanese (Nihon Daisuki!). I also saw some things I missed on the scavenger hunt, like the John Lennon Memorial and Bethseda Fountain.
He's writing my name: An De Ru
Sonic the Hedgehog
Hello Kitty. Goodbye innocence.
I House peeps
Imagine all the people ... who take pictures of the John Lennon Memorial every day
(the writing on my cheek means "strength" btw)
Others went off to the Gugenheim museum, or back to the I House to watch a movie, but I was lucky enough to meet up with a friend of mine who is visiting from France. Diane is the daughter of Cathrine and Pierre, with whom, you might recall, my parents switched houses to vacation in France. Nicole and I also stayed at her place in Paris a couple of times. Diane is visiting with her boyfriend and his family, and they've just finished Canada and the East Coast and are off to San Francisco, Yosemite, and LA.
So, that's what I've been up to. Tomorrow, the real fun begins. I have to observe a class from 9-12, then attend summer classes from 1-9. Yikes. That's what they mean by "Summer Intensive Training".
Please say something in a comment, or better yet, send Nicole an e-mail saying anything. She needs some luvin'.
If you want to come visit me, (and I know you do), e-mail me or comment and I'll let you know how to reach me. Otherwise, you're welcome to come to the last annual Wallace "4th of July" BBQ that is actually on the 25th of June. See you there!