How I Grew When Life’s Game Plan Changed

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A chapter in my life closed, abruptly, before I really knew how to process my reality and the emotions that would follow a faint goodbye. A month has passed since I moved back to Florida after believing I’d be gone for nearly 2 years.

Plans changed. My roadmap of what my life was SUPPOSE to look like shifted. Being able to write and share that it’ll all work out has given me peace within this chaos of grieving and starting over.

When I chose to go into Peace Corps almost a year ago now, I thought I had found my calling and I knew exactly what I was suppose to do; I was going to be of service to others. I had a glow in me for months before I left, a glow that is hard to describe to this day. Then, one day, I woke up and that spark in me was gone. It faded slowly over time until I didn’t recognize myself, my habits, or my new day to day behaviors. I was going against my intuition at so many turns, and my heart and mind weren’t on the same page. My heart wanted to stay, to serve, to love, to give, to be, but my rational fears were greater. So I broke my own heart, in order to follow what I knew to be right for me. I see now, no one was benefiting from that. 

Sometimes, it’s hard for me to talk about my Peace Corps experience in its entirety because although I left, it doesn’t mean I don’t wonder. I wonder about the people, the work I did, my school, and my kids. I wonder if anything I did stuck or mattered. I wonder if I was of service. I wonder if things could have been different had I spoken up sooner. I’m human and I wonder, a lot. I spend nights awake, hoping that I’m moving in the right direction, hoping that I am taking care of myself.

But as my mind runs wild, I try to calm it.

Knowing that the ‘what if’ game is torture to every inch of me.

What have I learned from starting over again?

I’ve learned, I need to trust my intuition and protect my well-being.

I can be strong by being vulnerable, asking for help, and accepting that sometimes I need a hand to hold onto.

I don’t need to justify my reasons or prove myself to anyone. I know my truths. 

My self-worth is not equated with my accomplishments, titles, or roles. I’m enough, worthy, and loved for just being me. I am enough and I’m free of the burdens to be something I’m not.

This is not a failure for me, this was part of the plan. I did something I had always wanted to do and I did my very best, but there were factors out of my own control, ones I couldn’t live with. So instead of having to justify anything or belittling my time away, I’ve learned to love my experience for all that it was. I even love the parts that left me a little bruised and fragile because it’s allowed me to rebuild stronger, fuller and better than before.

I don’t know what’s next or what tomorrow holds, but I do know that I am stronger now because I am choosing to just be. I do know that it’s dark before the dawn, and this life really is sweet, even when it’s heavy.

My Story: A Piece of Promise, Closure & Moving On

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The right words to write this last month to sum up my experience haven’t come to me until more recently. These last 30-40 days since I made my decisions to leave Peace Corps, to leave Grenada, a place that I had called my 2nd home has been extremely eye-opening in countless ways, but the hardest part was finally allowing myself to follow my intuition to alter my commitments of service. There were a lot of moving parts that went into the good-bye and the final decision because when it came to the core of it all, I knew that staying was breaking my heart more than leaving would. 


I’ve decided to share the trying parts of my story in case it may provide insight or spark connection.


I understand that social media can be allusive, and confusing to what reality is at times, especially since I chose to highlight the highs. Truthfully though, there were absolutely beautiful moments there and my hard times don’t belittle the love and beauty I felt on Grenada. I chose to keep the burdens to myself, and remain resilient through things that were really heavy to carry. I worked so hard everyday to consciously focus on the good, and that resulted in me minimizing my truth, to make it less than what it was. I felt as if I didn’t acknowledge it as reality, it was not happening. My mind convinced me that if I didn’t talk about it, I didn’t have to deal with it. And boy, was I so wrong.


I confided in my closest people because I didn’t feel like myself anymore. I worried my motivation, my mental health, and my being were never going to be my friends again. As I mentioned before, security was a major component and concern for me and it only intensified while I was there, bringing on an array of problems. Some things beyond my control were at play and my situation and placement fell through the cracks because of it. I fell through the cracks.


This is not the reality of every Peace Corps Volunteer at all— everyone’s story is different, special, and unique. Mine just got cut short, and God granted me grace to choose differently. You don’t realize how important your safety is until you feel so powerless and exposed everyday. I knew that PC would not be easy and it challenged me in ways that grew me beautifully, but it hit a point where I couldn’t stay any longer due to rational fears. 


So now fast forward to being home the last two and half weeks, my mind was bogged down with the reality of guilt, grief for the ending of a chapter, and new realizations about my essence that I never dared to acknowledge before. I’ve been getting help and support where I needed it the most, and I feel like I can breathe. There are parts of me that I’m rebuilding and making stronger, but there’s a lingering guilt that I felt since I am no longer in Grenada. I miss moments on Grenada. I miss my school. I miss my kids. I miss my Peace Corps friends. I miss living in another culture.  And it’s okay to miss all those things while also wanting distance and closure. But, I know that God has a plan for me and my Peace Corps journey was meant to be 6 months, no matter how badly I wanted it to be the full-time. I know in my heart that I did the best I could and advocated for myself along the way.


Now I understand the importance of trusting my intuition. So I just want to say my little bit that I wish I was reminded…… know that you’re never stuck. You’re never trapped. You’re never alone, and it does get better when you allow yourself to release, forgive, and accept help. It’s all going to be okay, no matter what season of life you’re in. Thank you for allowing me to share my piece!

How I Found Self-Love and Respect By Advocating For Myself

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Before Peace Corps, there were many instances where I sold myself short, took less than I worked for, bent until I broke, and became a designated floor mat. I would shrink in situations that made me uncomfortable and gravitated towards being a peace keeper instead of being true to my core and exigencies. By being a peace keeper and labelling myself level-minded and conscious, I sold off bits of who I am to appease others and now as I sit in a small room in a country far away, I see how desperately I needed those pieces I so freely gave away. It became essential to me to rebuild my fortitude.


“I want to be virtuous and live with integrity,” I said many times before. “I want to empower other women and inspire those around me,” I said more times than I can count. Yet, I was passive and behaved in a way that didn’t align with my essence and the goals I had for the woman I was creating. I’d apologize when I didn’t need to and frankly, I got tired of hearing the word ‘sorry’ come out of my mouth when it wasn’t called for. It took me so long to get on board with the idea, not all relationships, friendships, and connections can or should be salvaged and restored. I had to release the desire to control what was out of my grasp, and work on areas of my life that would bring me peace and self-respect.


I wanted to empower women to be their best self and to be go-getters and dreamers and doers, yet, I was staying small and keeping my voice to a whisper in the background. It’s taken months of reflection, conscious writings, and deliberate changes to my behavior to understand my place in this world and where my soul feels most alive, but it’s here and now. As I write, I see more clearly. My journey in Peace Corps has forced me to break away from the shell I gladly hid behind; I saw that my voice and perspective is meant to be shared and adds values to the conversation. By advocating for myself and my ideas, I have a greater respect for my truth and capabilities.


It happened gradually, then one day, I looked around me and everything in my world was different. I wasn’t content with mediocrity or lack of consideration. I wasn’t content with ‘this is the way things are done’. I began to question power, procedures, and my new norms, and by having open and honest conversations while being cognizant of other’s perceptions and realities, I witnessed a pragmatic shift in my interactions, my confidence, and my relationships.


I was no longer searching for validation or affirmation. I gave myself the endorsement to go after what I want, to speak up when I am uncomfortable or have an idea for the betterment of a system, and to know that I am capable, valuable, and  decisive. By advocating for myself, I created the self-worth that I had always dreamed of having. It’s not easy getting to a place where you feel comfortable sending query emails, raising your hand, interjecting into conversations, sharing a different point of view or belief, but it’s so worth it. I spent so many years biting my tongue, but I want to walk the walk and talk the talk that I preach. I am so ready to take on 2020 with a focus on self-love, self-respect, and leaving everything I touch better than I found it.

How Moving Abroad Reshapes Your Mind and Challenges Your Beliefs

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I left the US 4 months ago, and this is my month #4 reflection with the Peace Corps. Throughout the rest of September and the entirety of October, something special happened. 

To start— this month has been the most eye-opening and testing one yet. The reality of what I’ll be doing day to day has set in, and it can feel so daunting to accomplish and do all the things I’m meant to do here. It can feel overwhelming and isolating, but it’s also invigorating and I’ve found the purest joys here. This journey I’m on has called for the most advantageous version of myself; it’s required me to become more vocal, present, and understanding. It’s demanded that I listen to unravel the realities of other people and to leave any and all discernments at the door. I lived a more sheltered life growing up in small town USA; therefore, there are so many truths I’ve never been exposed to until now. 

You know that saying, you don’t know what it’s like for someone else until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes; Well, I don’t believe you can even truly understand then. You may have more compassion for them or can grapple with their candor, but when you can return their shoes after that mile trek and move out of that reality, it’s difficult to comprehend the longevity and lasting impact of their experiences. 

This month has been special because I’m beginning to truly grasp how little I know about the world around me, differing cultures and belief systems, and the people who occupy all the beautiful spaces around the globe. It’s inspired me to learn, to seek to understand, to hear, to observe, and to ask questions. 

Being inside of a classroom all day and teaching first graders, I’ve seen first hand the power of educating the upcoming generation. It’s been so exceptional for me because I’ve fallen in love with learning again, and that doesn’t mean in the formal sense of going to school to just learn during those specified hours. Any chance I get, I’m picking up a new book or finding a new topic I’m interested in or downloading a new podcast.

I want to learn more so I can understand more, and that’s what I’m working to teach the children I come in contact with. I want them to fall in love with learning and gaining knowledge, the way I have because education and the things they learn are something no one can ever take away from them. By learning, they are investing in themselves and that is the best investment they will make in this lifetime. 

So many of my kiddos tell about how they want to be teachers and doctors and police officers. They tell me about their dreams and their ideas because I ask them and keep pushing for them to expand. I never want them to lose their sense of wonder and creativity because those qualities will take them so far in life. Month #4 has reminded me that I am exactly where I am suppose to be with who I am meant to be here with. If you are ever contemplating moving to another country, do it, you’ll grow in unimaginable ways. 

It has been filled with adventures around Grenada, many beach days, and empty evenings filled with Netflix and writing, but nothing really compares to being in a place where I can share my heart and learn about others in such a vulnerable way. 

Thanks for following along my journey. I am always open to hearing other perceptions, truths, and beliefs, so feel free to reach out. 

*** disclaimer: all my views are my own, and do not reflect the views of the US government or Peace Corps ***

 

Month #3: Peace Corps Eastern Caribbean Reflection

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This has been a substantial month with many highs and lows, many realizations and conversations, and countless A-ha moments.

I’ve been living in Grenada now for two months, and initially when I first arrived and the following weeks, I felt like a tourist who was so caught up in trying to figure out my new norm that I was missing the whole point of my early transition and integration stages in a new culture. Through writing and honest conversations, I was able to identify some of my shortcomings and rectify them as this was a whole new avenue I had never been down.

I understood better that adapting and integrating while still holding onto the core of who you are isn’t a walk in a park; it challenges you in ways you never knew possible. 

I was hard on myself for that reason; I wanted to know and do it all right away, but I’m only human and things take time. Now two months later, I see the beauty in easing in and making genuine and authentic relationships and connections with those around me. 

At the beginning of September, I began working at a local Roman Catholic school in Grenada. On the fourth, I was officially sworn in as Peace Corps Volunteer by our Program Manager and the Ambassador of the Eastern Caribbean, Linda Swartz Taglialatela. All the training we had done for the last two and a half months in St. Lucia and Grenada was now worth it because we could be do actual meaningful work in our schools and around our communities. 

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The hands on learning in the Grenadian classroom from the kids and with other teachers has been so vital in my adjustment process. Yes, I’m here to help wherever I’m needed, to be a human resource and promote sustainable practices. I’m here to co-educate and share my knowledge, but the truth is, I am learning more everyday from these kids, fellow teachers, and community members.

I’ve gained an even greater appreciation for education, learning and sparking kid’s interest in gaining knowledge in all aspects of life.

The teachers I work with are so resourceful and creative, and I admire all that they bring to the table. I love sharing ideas and collaborating as we have great conversations about implementing new strategies, games, activities, standards, and classroom management.

I’ve started to explore my community more and take myself on walks (even though sidewalks are very scarce and these twisty rainforest roads make my heart drop). I greet every passing face with a smile, and often times, they already know me as Ms. DeBoer or Teacher Ashley. I talk to the baker about her baking tips and the shop owner about his saltfish bakes. There are a lot of side stands where people cook/ grill out and sell all kinds of BBQ food or Oildown, and I am constantly making new friends because I love food, but hate cooking. God bless, WhatsApp to stay connected. 

This life has required a new version of myself— one that speaks up, says hello first, leaves fear at the door, and steps miles outside of an ever expanding comfort zone.  

As a PCV, there are internal struggles you endure. You are no longer the person you were when you boarded the plane, bright eyed to take on this endeavor, and said goodbye to your loved ones. It can be very isolating at times to undergo so much self-realization and self-actualization that put your convictions and beliefs through the ringer. You’re stripped of your masks and comforts, and you have to face the person you are at the core. While I’ve been unpacking my own upheavals and fallibilities, I am learning to be kinder to myself and more appreciative of this journey. 

Month 3 has been a whirlwind where I’m actually in the school and living on my own, making lifelong connections with host country nationals and other Peace Corps Volunteers. I’m reminded that making human connections that are sincere and genuine is what life is all about! Thank you for following along my Peace Corps experience because it’s a goal to share Grenada’s culture and beauty with you all too. 

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**these thoughts and opinions are my own, and do not reflect the thoughts of the US government or Peace Corps**

Reflection of my 2nd Month Abroad & 1st Month in Grenada

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After completing over 440 hours of training in the Eastern Caribbean, I am just days away from being sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Sitting here in my own space writing this piece, my mind is going a million miles a minute while I reflect on the last 60 days. Truly, it feels like it was another life since I was graduating college and goofing off with my friends. The reality is, I’ve been through so much in such a short amount of time. 

In a matter of months, my life has been twisted upside down and turned sideways, and yet, it has me feeling more at home with myself and fuller than before.

Time moves as quick as lightning here, but sometimes, the night lingers longer than I’d like. My thoughts gravitate towards the notion that, I’m not the same girl I was when I boarded the plane in Miami in the beginning of July; I was timid, had an anxious mind, and worried that I wouldn’t find my place, my people, myself. 

Boy did I have to pony up quick to become an advocate for myself and unpack all my baggage. 

Especially in this last month/ phase 2 of my training in Grenada, I have experienced a whole new level of trials around and within me. Whilst on this journey, personally and professional, you’re pushed, you’re challenged, you’re lonely, you’re new, you’re doing, but sometimes failing, you’re vulnerable, you’re questioned, but at the end of the day, I look myself in the mirror and remind myself that I’m capable, here for a reason, and that I will show up better tomorrow.

I’m human though. I’m not invincible to the uncomfortable moments and the changing of the tides. My mindset keeps evolving in a healthy way to uplift my spirit and remind me of the goodness everywhere I look and the goodness in me. And that’s been my greatest takeaway from my 2nd month in the PC:

We don’t have to be who we’ve always been—we aren’t stuck in a bubble or under a rock. We are meant to be stagnant. We are meant to grow, learn, and blossom, and become the person our soul knows we are at our core. This PC journey has evoked so many important revelations like, who I really am, my convictions, and how I want to share my heart with others. 

I’m reminded the importance of this—there needs to be a correlation between how you truly are and what you portray to the world; there needs to be a parallel, a consideration that runs from your core to the surface, or else you’ll wither away under the stress and speculation when you don’t walk the way you claim to. It isn’t easy always acting, putting on a show to pretend to be something you’re not. 

When you show the world your colors, make sure they are your true, undeniable colors to show because eventually onlookers will see past the facade and you’ll only be shambles of the person you claim to be. We get this idea in our head of how we are suppose to act, look, behave, and speak to fit into a tiny box of what we believe others want to see. Quite frankly, none of that matters at all, if it doesn’t match what’s in your heart. I’m learning the importance of just being, unapologetically myself. 

All my quirks are part of me. I don’t have to dull my shine or play it down. This life is big, beautiful, and captivating, and I don’t take that lightly. It truly is the little things in life that I enjoy the most, and being on this journey reminds me to love deeper, speak kinder words, and appreciate every interaction. 

It’s a beautiful life and I hope you are creating a life you love too. 

Thanks for following along my journey with Peace Corps Eastern Caribbean! 

*** Disclaimer: These thoughts and views are entirely my own, and do not reflect the views of the Peace Corps or U.S. government ***

Peace Corps Eastern Caribbean Interview #1 With St. Lucia PCV Jamelyn Ebelacker

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Interview was conducted by Katie Anderson with Kat’s Eye View and Ashley DeBoer with Thoughtful Blonde

Katie and I prompted questions and Jamie answered, so all the answers will be recorded in first person. 

Interviewee’s Name:

Jamelyn Ebelacker, you can call me Jamie. 

Quick background on Jamie: Jamie is currently serving in St. Lucia, but she began her service in Dominica, where Jamie along with her fellow PCVs were later evacuated due to hurricane Maria 2 years ago. After months of rebuilding and recouping, she had to change her assignment to work in St. Lucia. She is the Peace Corps Eastern Caribbean social media guru and a great mentor to many trainees, as she is the Peace Corps Volunteer Leader. We are so excited to share her thoughts and advice with you all! 

Educational Background on Jamelyn: 

I went to a very small high school in Anchorage, Alaska at Steller Secondary School. That was the beginning development of my ability to work independently and create projects on my own. Then, I went to the Institute of Native American Arts in Sante Fe, New Mexico, where I got my BFA in New Media Arts. My background is a big driving factor in what I do on the island as far as my projects go, digitally and artistically. 

What is your title/ role in the Peace Corps?

My title is English Literacy Co-Teacher, but you wear many hats here. Some other titles that are used are Literacy Support and Literacy Specialist, but essentially, you are working with a counterpart teacher or two, and then working on different projects and committees. 

 What does a typical day look like for you? Where do you spend your days?

When school is in session, it’s basically wake up, get ready, and then my school is almost in my backyard, so I just walk on over as the bell is ringing. I get there as the kids are lining up then it begins with morning songs, prayers, and then depending on how many teachers are there, it’s a matter of morning exercising, getting the kids settled, and easing them into the day. After that, the day is utter chaos, but it’s FUN. It’s both fun and frustrating, but that’s part of the challenge for the volunteer to make it more fun than frustrating. 

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Why did you choose to serve in the PC/ go to the Eastern Caribbean?

Eastern Caribbean was actually my third choice because I didn’t think I was necessarily qualified for the position, but something drew me to pick the EC as my third choice when I was applying. I’m so happy it did. I think rather than me picking this post, this post picked me. That’s how I’ve continued to feel throughout my service. There’s a continuity of kismet that underlies my service, things that just feel right. Those things remind me that I’m in place that I’m meant to be. 

Where do you draw your inspiration from?

In my family, I have two places where I draw my inspiration from. First, on my dad’s Native American side, I can come from a very long line of powerful women, matriarchs that really carried the family through tough times and I try to draw inspiration from their struggles and their triumphs. On another part of my family, the multigenerational members of the armed services, I come from a long line of military— both of my parents, grandparents, their parents, and so on, both on the native and non-native side. I knew I always wanted to serve and give back, but I didn’t want to be in the military or be in a position where I may have to harm someone. So I figured this is the best possible outcome: I still get to serve my country in the Peace Corps and spread the love, instead of the hate. 

What’s your favorite part about service?

Every single day is something new! For someone who gets easily bored or distracted, I love that. I love that I never know what’s going to happen day to day and there’s always something new to learn and try. That’s a beautiful way to live life. 

If you could give a new peace corp trainee any advice knowing what you know, what would that be? 

In my wise second year of being a PCV, the best advice I could give to a trainee is that your service isn’t going to look like anyone else’s and you can’t compare it to anyone else’s. You can’t go into your site and look at what the previous volunteer before you did, and try to uphold that same standard for yourself. You have to do your own time and create your own path, and not be so hard on yourself if your service doesn’t look like your neighbors or another volunteer’s. And that’s the beautiful thing about it, service is different for everyone. 

What is the most challenging aspect of service for you?

The most challenging part was dealing with hurricane Maria and how that really affected me on so many levels. You never think you’re going to join the Peace Corps and then you’re going to go through these experiences, but it’s been both good and bad. I learned a lot about myself, especially how I am and how I react in emergency and desperate situations. Even in the face of those situations, I’m proud of my response. People can choose “flight or fight” during those challenging times or shrink under the pressure, I’m proud to know that I could remain strong and step up for my Peace Corp family. That was a big challenge because that was my family in the moment, and not having control or the ability to take care of them as best as I wanted to, that was the hardest part. I’ve learned a lot about being prepared ahead of time now and taking things seriously, and being sympathetic to everyone’s situation. No matter what happens to a volunteer during their service, I know it’s not easy, and I’m here for you and whatever you need. That’s the biggest lesson I got out of that. 

***Hurricanes are a reality for us on Eastern Caribbean, and things can change in a blink of an eye while living on the island. PC provides evacuation/ consolidation routes and preparation sessions during training**

Greatest achievements during service?

Another PCV we interviewed Emily chimed in about Jamie to give credit where credit is due, and Jamie is responsible for getting all of the social media started for the Peace Corps Eastern Caribbean. She has grown the social media pages through her art, vision, and consistency. 

Jamie: “PC Eastern Caribbean is one of the oldest posts, yet we don’t have a facebook, instagram, youtube like these other posts. Where is ours? Why don’t we have those? It blew my mind, so it fell at my feet to make it happen with the support of other great volunteers. I’ve built on that with my expertise and I feel as though I’ve built the foundation for something that will last long after I’m gone” 

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What are some projects you’ve been involved with and never expected to outside of the primary literacy project?

There two different categories for this— the at school projects and the community projects. At school, I never expected to be wearing an apron in the kitchen, baking up bakes and doughnuts for fundraisers and hanging out with the cool ladies in the kitchen, but here I am. In the community, I never expected to be taking over St. Lucia’s longest running beach and community clean up, helping it grow and bringing it up to a whole new level, but it’s been a beautiful way to feel as though I’m giving back. A few other things I do are mostly online by sending newsletters, emails, and running the social media. I take on a lot of digital projects, and although I didn’t expect to do that when coming down here, I’m glad I get to put my degree to good use and give back way in a way that was unexpected. 

Top things you think are essential to pack/ couldn’t live without!

EXTRA cords (phone cords, headphones, battery charges), you’ll need it. Hot sauces. ASS WIPES. 

How did you budget your money on a peace corps stipend?/ do you have any budgeting tips while in the peace corps?

You’re always going to run up against that low number in your account towards the end of the month, unless you eat like a bird and never leave your house. One of the things I do to combat that is I ALWAYS within a day or two of the money dropping into my account, I go and take out the money that I need for rent, gas, electric, fix bills, and stuff it away in a safe place until I can pay it. Being able to break it down and you get a VICA that breaks it down for your costs/ expenses is extremely helpful. Even if you aren’t the best at planning, make a rudimentary budget to see how much you can really spend on going out, travel, the extra things, until you are able to self regulate. 

Be thrifty and channel your inner recycler. I wear things will holes in them and then sow them up when they get too bad. I make my own furniture out of rum bottles. I just keep reusing and repurposing things, which helps stretch the budget. GET CRAFTY!

Why did you decide to extend your service for a 3rd year? What are your intentions for your close of service?

I decided to extend because I fell in love with St. Lucia. I fell in love with the food, the views, the people, and the culture. I realized when we had to make the decision to extend, I wasn’t done. I wasn’t ready to start saying my goodbyes and that I had more to contribute. By extending, it would allow me to continue my projects and make sure they were ready for my locals and host country nationals and neighbors to take them over when I leave. I really wanted to spend more time living on a tropical island. 

My intentions for COS, I am still thinking about it. There’s so many things I want to do, but I’ve narrowed it down to get a MBA and/or applying to work for the National Park Service. That sounds like a dang good time! (side note, peace corps has great connections with fellowships). 

Thank you so much Jamie for sharing your heart and experience with us all at Thoughtful Blonde and Kat’s Eye View! Stay tuned for the next interview!