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**
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The Importance of Having Friends Who Are Loyal, Inspiring, and Go-Getters

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As I grow, see the world, and learn, I always come back to one main purpose to life and that’s making connections. Who we love, know, and grow with matters and who we care for, share with, and inspire is just as important. 

I spent most of my youth living in Indiana, growing with the same kids I had known since kindergarten; those friendships I created on the playgrounds, at pop warner football games, and inside the classroom have been forever imprinted on my heart. Through ups and downs, parent’s divorces, lost loved ones, break ups, detentions, and so much more, I understood the importance of valuing the people in my life who showed me love and loyalty at a young age. 

I never wanted to regret not loving big enough, so I loved my friends fiercely and as if they were my own blood, my own family.

I could see the beauty in each flawed friend I had— I took note that we all have our quirks, and questionable characteristics, but the ones who are the most peculiar, most far fetched often need the most love. 

Then when I moved to Florida, I took my mindset about having quality friends over being friends with the masses. It’s wonderful to be kind to each passing face, but it’s also vital to choose people who choose you, and to show up for them, be a consistent motivator and supporter.

It’s easy to stay surface with friends, to gossip, to barely graze over the sticky situations; the challenge is finding people who are on the same wave length, who want to get deep and go beyond what the world sees. When I shared my heart, people began to share theirs and that’s when I built friendships on the foundation of trust, perseverance, and inspiration. 

As an adult, I see the importance of having friends who are not only genuine and authentic, but also have the ability to evoke your passions and inspire you to do and go for your dreams.

The day to day can be filled with chaos, dramas, or letdowns and let’s be honest, life gets in the way at times, texts go unanswered, weeks go by, but the most beautiful friendships and connections aren’t defined by how often you talk or hang out. It’s about how real and deep your energies vibe and connect;  it’s about having friends in your life who give you their perspective, who uplift your spirits, and inspire you to stand back up when you stumble. 

I am so lucky to have those friends from all walks of life with various interests, passions, and goals, but despite our differences, they show up for me, root me on, and I do the same. I love people I connect with fiercely because it really is that deep and those connections are one in a billion. Also, a lot of the most genuine friendships I have made, especially in adulthood, have been because I put myself out there, tore down my walls, made plans, and had 20 seconds of courage to just smile and say hi. So it’s so worth stepping out of your comfort zone to make life-long friends. 

So this is a little reminder to hug your friends a little tighter, say ‘I love you’ a little more often, and to put in the extra effort every now and then. 

Thank you to my best friends, and people I adore more than anything. Shout out to Livia for the FaceTime call that inspired this, you are my inspo!

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A New Perspective When You’re Feeling Less Than Special

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I hear it often, and it saddens me: 

People saying, “What, they think they are special? They aren’t special.” Their venomous words scream right into your face. It feels as though, a dark cloud is tapping on your shoulder, whispering a gentle reminder that rocks your core. “You’re a nobody, you aren’t special.”

The words echo again and again, as failures come rolling in, and the setbacks feel like hurdles you’ll never be able to clear. You start to think, ‘I am a nobody, nobody special.’ I’ve been there, done that too. I’m here to tell you otherwise, but as I write this all, I begin to wonder who I am to tell you different? Who I am to tell you all the thoughts in your head are just against you, to just feed your mind sweeter thoughts?

Am I a nobody too? 

Absolutely….. not. And neither are you. 

Am I not special because I don’t have the most beautiful face or the best voice or the sharpest wit or the most intuitive mind? 

Absolutely not. I’m special because I don’t have all the those things, and because I have other qualities that make me, me. Own that! 

I am Ashley Louise DeBoer, and that means something TO ME. It really doesn’t have to mean much to someone else because they may not know my heart or the way I think, or my energy might not be their cup of tea. Quite frankly, we aren’t going to be everyone’s favorite or second favorite; there will always be someone else with prettier hair, more money, MORE MORE MORE, but we aren’t playing a comparison game, at least not in this lifetime. We aren’t defined by the masks we wear, the amount of money or followers we have. 

It’s so much deeper than that, miles beyond the surface. 

As cheesy as it sounds, we’re all so incredibly special, so deeply important and unique. Not a single soul is the same as the next, so that ultimately means you are one in 6-7 billion. No one laughs the way you do, thinks the way you do, expresses themselves the way you do, dresses the way you do, experiences life the way you do. 

Each one of us is so special because we bring our own perspective to the table, even when we feel as though we are lacking or behind. 

The way you think and talk about your loves, passions, and ideas contributes to your beauty, your uniqueness. No one has lived this day the same way you have, and that’s pretty dang special, and that’s why I’m here to remind you that voice matters, your opinion matters, and your existence is validated, even when you feel as though you are sinking under the pressure. You’re suppose to be at the table, serving up all your thoughts because your perspective and perceptions should and can be heard.

So thank you to all the creatives, the listeners, the thinkers, the writers, the ones who say I love you first, the ones who show up despite the fears and reservations, you are our friendly reminder of the importance to value ourselves and all that being ourselves encompasses. 

Don’t worry so much about being something you’re not, the best thing you can be is you, as they say, “ be yourself, everyone else is already taken” So continue to see the badass that you are. Cheers to being REALLY, shockingly SPECIAL! 

Reflection: 2 Weeks Living in St Lucia & Peace Corps Training

Reflection: 2 Weeks Living in St Lucia & Peace Corps Training

First off, I’d like to thank everyone who has reached out to me, wished me well, celebrated with me, helped me pack, and has been rooting for while on this journey. I already knew my family and friends were special, but now I’m blown away by how beautiful, deep, and loving all the relationships in my life are. So thank you again and be sure to follow along the Doer’s Diary on IG!

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On July 2nd, I picked up my life along with 39 other volunteers to move to St. Lucia and the Eastern Caribbean (Grenada, St. Vincent, and Dominica) for the next 27 months. I’m currently in phase one of training for 4 weeks in Babonneau, St. Lucia to become a Primary English Literacy Specialist Volunteer with the Peace Corps to focus on promoting literacy in primary/infant schools. On August 2nd, I will find out what island I’ll be living on for the next two years and that’s where I’ll be for phase 2 and 3 of my training before being sworn in in October. I’ll spend the reminder of my service working at the same school for two years and during that time, I’ll focus on integrating with the community, making lifelong connections, and working with fellow teachers and kiddos from grades 1-3. 

For more information on the volunteers and programs in the Eastern Caribbean!

After weeks of packing up my townhouse, moving 95% of my belonging into a storage unit, and the other 5% in to my mom and stepdad’s house, leaving for the Peace Corps was upon us. I had to fit everything I could possibly need (and then some) into 2 suitcases with a max weight limit of 50 lbs each and one carry on. Let me tell you, that carry was a hiking backpack that weighed as much as I do. The backpack I used was a god-sent, and a best seller on amazon. So check it out, fellow travelers.  

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Packing in and of itself was consuming, and I am currently working on a packing guide once I get settled into the island I’ll be serving on, so I save future volunteers from packing too much or not enough.

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After my first three days of orientation on the island, all the trainees left the comfort of each other’s presence to move into our host family’s homes.

This is where the real fun began. You know the saying: “growth only occurs outside of your comfort zone,” whoever said that definitely knew what they were talking about.

The embrace and instant love I felt from my host mom made me feel so welcomed in a new environment. I quickly jumped into learning about my surroundings— exploring her extensive garden filled with pineapples, limes, lemons, cashews, Chinese cabbage, coconuts, plantains and the list goes on, learning a new language, adapting to new norms, and being on a whole new level of integration into a culture I could have only dreamed of. My heart is filled with so much gratitude for my host mom opening her home to me, and the people of St. Lucia for being so welcoming and kind as I ask a million questions and learn as much as I can. 

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Once I moved into my host family’s beautiful home in Babboneau, I struggled for a few days— feeling the loss of all the things and people I had been comforted by in my typical days back in the states. I cried, I shed my walls, and saw a newer, more open and vulnerable side of myself that I was willing to share with other trainees, my host mom, and my family back home. I began to realize how important this time was— I had shed my ego and left my masks to hide who I truly am back home. It’s been so humbling to just be me, and that’s enough. 

I am not immune to the desire for consistency and normalcy, but I have felt a lightness in my heart that has allowed me to be fully present and loving.

Day by day, I learn how we are all more alike than different, and how loving one another is our most powerful tool.

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Our first week of training flew by so quickly, with amble information on culture, diversity, inclusion, medical procedures, consolidation routes, hurricane tips, and so forth. My head could spin looking back at all my notes, but I’ve learned more about my role in development and leaving judgements at the door. Hearing the point of views from fellow trainees and staff has been such an eye-opening experience, to be more receptive and transparent in my endeavor to inspire and connect with others. I have been able to make so many wonderful friendships that are already starting to blossom, so for now, I’m living each day to the fullest and on Monday, I’ll be hiking with all my friends to the Sulphur Springs in St Lucia, the Gros Piton which is the world’s only drive-in volcano. So stay tuned for a packing guide for Peace Corps EC and Hiking Guides. . .

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I made it on local news in St Lucia where Peace Corps Volunteer share their stories!

Please feel free to reach out, ask questions, and connect. Thanks for being a Doer and enjoy one of my favorite quotes!

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Being Single In Your Twenties

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Everywhere you look, especially on social media, countless people have found their one in a billion, their happily ever after. They’re cozied up with the one they want to share their life with, and those love bugs are following their feelings to the alter, into long term commitment, and forevers. You see couples kissing, taking cutesy pictures, exploring the world together, cheering each other on during the highs and the lows. 

I understand that comparison is the thief of joy, and I don’t believe the green is greener on the other side of the fence, but somedays, it’d be nice to have that one person that make you smile when you want to cry, that one person who makes you feel giddy when they walk into a room, that one person who is there for you rain or shine.

But I don’t have that. And that’s okay.

When you’re single in your twenties, it doesn’t mean you are not enough or worth it. It doesn’t mean you are going to be alone forever or that you are unlovable; it doesn’t mean you are behind in life. It can feel as though are, when your friends are bringing their boyfriends/girlfriends around, moving in together, doing all that jazz but you’re just chillin and third wheeling. 

Your life doesn’t start or become meaningful because you’ve met someone to share it with. Your life is meaningful if you give it meaning and purpose, when you know your essence and cherish your heart. You don’t need another soul to validate you or give you worth. You are worthy without the words to affirm it. 

Being single during my early twenties has taught me how to be vulnerable in who I am and what I want out of life. I’ve learned how to be independent, how to prioritize myself, my future, and my plans, how to walk into a room and know I belong without a familiar face in sight. I’ve learned the importance of being present in the moment, and understanding and controlling my feelings. I’ve found calmness in my own presence, and released the need to control what I can not. 

Going solo in my twenties and throughout college has taught me how to date, how to stand my ground, and stand up for myself. I’ve been able to find my voice, and not allow a voice to talk over mine. I will not make myself small for anyone. I figured out what career path I wanted to go on, took countless opportunities, and shaped my life the way my heart and mind desired. I didn’t have to compromise in monumental stages of my growth. 

Through my single years, I’ve learned valuable lessons like you can’t love people into loving you, you outgrow people who stay stagnant, and you should never, ever settle when it comes to love.

When you dream big and you’re a go-getter, you’ll scare people who don’t see the vision or can’t stand the heat. Thank them for the memories, but let them hit the road before they weigh you down. Attraction is essential, but if it’s not deeper than the surface, what’s the point?

A few side notes to it all—

Rebounds don’t work, but time does heal wounds. 

Forgiveness is your friend.

If you like someone, tell them. Show them.  

Jealousy is a waste of energy. No one is you, and that’s your power.

Don’t let your pride get in the way.

Understanding is the way to someone’s heart.

Love yourself and others will too. 

Trust the timing of things because you can’t rush something, you want to last forever. Enjoy the single season of your life because it won’t be like this forever. You have mountains to move and places to go. Have an open, receptive heart because you’re lovable, worthy, and deserving of a love as deep as the ocean. 

Cheers to being single in our twenties! 

Graduation Reflection: How College Impacted My Confidence and My Heart

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I’ve had some time to reflect on the whirlwind of my life this past month— the newness of being a college alumni, the subtle emptiness of a once favored chapter, and the grand adventure waiting to unfold. 

As I graduated, I was in awe of all the work that had transpired for me to be in this moment—walking across the stage, receiving my diploma, turning the page on a place I called home for the past 4 years. I found myself thanking my family and friends, but most importantly, my gratitude drifted to all the letdowns and confusion I’ve endured because I was sculpted, molded by all my failures that became lessons.

Everything I had once wanted to work out, but didn’t, finally made sense. I understood why certain paths were just not for me, I was being prepared for my HELL YES.  

For a few short moments as I strutted across the stage, my life made perfect sense. I was me, and that was enough— no nerves, no distractions, just me and my value.

I had transformed, blossomed into a woman who is independent, resilient, and understanding of one’s self, others, and the world near and far. 

I had set my heart and mind to something and I achieved what I had planned to do; I accomplished something that once felt like a vague, distant dream. As I graduated, I watched it all come together, in harmony— a milestone, a coming of age story as old as time. 

A major revelation in my heart was that I am an adult now. I know they say 18 is the age you can vote and buy tobacco, move out and carry on, but as I hugged and thanked my mom, my presence was different— more confident, more assured, more adult-like. At 22, I became an adult. At 22, I graduated college and made decisions for my future that fell completely on my own shoulders. Longevity and fulfillment filtered into my decisions. 

I didn’t need training wheels for life anymore and for a few moments I glided as if I were invincible, as if I’d never fall. I rationally know I’ll rock back and forth, fall too many times to count, get a few scraped knees, maybe a broken heart or two, but with the wind in my hair and hope in my heart, I made one promise to myself— I’ll always get back up. I’ll always try again. I’ll always have faith in my heart to do better and believe in the magic of today, the magic of tomorrow, and the magic of loving myself. 

That’s one thing I hold near and dear to my heart, and know I must value through all the years to come— it’s so important to have love and respect for myself and the world around me. When I truly started to believe in myself, a ‘no’ could not stop me; countless no’s motivated me and served as a reminder that the ride is the most beautiful part of the journey. 

Graduating was rewarding, and it had meaning and fullness because of the grueling nights of projects and studying, because of the involvement I had created within my community with peers and professors, because of the passionate people I surrounded myself with, inspiring me day in and day out, and lastly because I was pushed outside of my comfort zone in every avenue. 

The ride was filled with tremendous growth and soul searching, experiences I wouldn’t trade for the world and as I reflect during my gap between graduation and leaving for the Peace Corps, I understand the important of the in between moments, making the most of the growing pains, and loving experiences before they are over. 

I’m so thankful for the opportunity to share my thoughts and reflections like this, and I owe a lot to Florida Gulf Coast University for being the foundation for me to find my confidence and love for myself. Thank you mom and dad, Mark and Morgan, friends and family for the endless love and support, and rooting for me.

So cheers to new beginning and valuing those special people I wouldn’t want to live without! 

 

Ash’s Guide To Biking On Sanibel Island, FL

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One of my favorite things to do, especially when I have friends in town or have a weekend off, is biking all around Sanibel to discover the cutest cafes, stores, and locations. Sanibel Island has a bike/ walking path that is partially shaded and the best perk is, IT IS NOT SHARED WITH THE ROAD. (much safer) Once you are on Sanibel Island, go about a mile down Periwinkle to Billy’s Rentals. It is in the middle of everything and not too far from the beach. It’s open 8:30am to 5pm everyday.

For the bike I get, it’s $12 for 4 hours, but here are the rates and options:

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Once you get your bike, here are my top 7 places you should bike to:

1. Sanibel Bean Coffee Shop

 

It’s located at 2240 Periwinkle Way, Sanibel, FL 33957 and it’s open from 7am to 2pm. It’s my favorite coffee shop in all SWFL. Not only is the atmosphere chill, it has the best coffee too. I always get the white chocolate mocha, but they have tons of specials or check out their menu before going. #sanibelbean

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2. Lighthouse Beach

The lighthouse beach is at the end of Periwinkle, so just bike until you hit the water. 112 Periwinkle Way, Sanibel, FL and the beach opens at 8am. The Sanibel Island Light is also known as the Point Ybel Light and it’s one of the first lighthouses on the Florida’s Gulf coast, north of Key West. It’s such an enjoyable beach and the water is so different and pretty compared to FMB. You just park your bike at the bike racks and all the bikes have baskets so bring your beach gear along.

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3. Lighthouse Cafe

It’s right by the beach at 362 Periwinkle Way and it was such a great place for lunch. They are known for their breakfast and they serve it all day. They have a ton of specials at their restaurant and totally worth checking out their menu. They open at 7am to 3pm and then reopen for dinner at 5!

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4. J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge

1 Wildlife Dr., Sanibel, FL and it opens at 9 am. It’s a little bit of a trek from the beach and bike rental, but it’s totally worth it. This refuge is part of the largest undeveloped mangrove ecosystem in the US. It’s so serene and has a 4 mile path or 8 mile option, and you can ride your bike through it all. It costs $1 per person/bike to enter, so bring a few singles. It’s a great ethical way to interact with nature.

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5. Gene’s Books

The countless rooms filled with endless books– basically heaven. It’s located at 2365 Periwinkle Way, not too far from the bike rental. I’ve been to countless bookstores around the country, but this is my #1 favorite bookstore EVER! That should tell you how amazing it is. They open at 9am and you could easily spend hours there. So drag another book lover with you.

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6. Love Boat Ice Cream

It’s in the Jerry’s Shopping Center and is located at 1700 Periwinkle Way #9. It opens at 10 am. Homemade ice cream with every flavor you can imagine. I always get a chocolate shake or a banana split. For the ice cream lovers, this is for you! They also have a Fort Myers location, by FMB, which is the one I normally go to.

7. Sanibel Fresh

On the way to or from the beach, stop at Sanibel Fresh and get the Sangria. Such a yummy red Sangria! It’s located at 1020 Periwinkle Way and it’s a cute little cafe with outside seating and a health conscious menu. My mom and I loved it and shared a flatbread and potato salad, so I recommend those options. Check out their Facebook for reviews or their website: https://www.restaurantji.com/fl/sanibel/sanibel-fresh-/

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I hope you enjoyed my recommendations.

Comment any questions or your own recommendations for Sanibel Island. It’s a great day adventure, so grab your friends, family, or take yourself on a little getaway. Thank you for reading, my friends. #travelingwithash