drinking water, amongst other things

Around here summer flows quickly past on waves of palpable humidity and heat mirages; it’s August already! Amidst all the heat and humidity and various activities, I have had time to at least briefly dwell upon those impending three months in Peru. I came up with three questions. So, I emailed my Andeo (the Peru program) correspondent two of my questions. (I lost the third question somewhere in the recesses of my unfocused, summer vacationing brain. I’ll let you know when I find it.) My email, in short, consisted of these two questions: Can I drink the tap water in Peru, and do I need a visa? When I wrote my email, I was pretty confident that I knew the answers to these two questions. Still am.
When I asked whether or not I will be able to drink the water in Peru, what I really wanted to know was whether or not my host family will be providing filtered water for me to drink. The Andeo lady surprised me with her answer. She basically stated that I might very well be able to drink the tap water, though I should stick to bottle water for the first week while my body is adjusting to the altitude, and that I should ask my host family about it when I get there. Well, her advice directly contradicted my assumption: I should not drink the tap water. And, since I have traveled and lived in several less developed countries, I was quite hesitant to embrace her advice with an innocently trusting, “OKAY!” So, I whipped out my handy dandy Lonely Planet Peru travel book (thank you Uncle Tom!) and found a blurb on drinking water. There it was in black and white on page 550, “Tap water in Peru is not safe to drink.” Ha! I knew it! And I felt better immediately. I’m on familiar territory if I can’t drink the water in a foreign country. It just feels right. With that conflict of information resolved, I immediately started searching for water filters, since I refuse to assume that my host family will have filtered water readily available, and I will most certainly not be living off little bottles of water in Peru. Mother suggested I look at reviews for water filters on a reliable backpacking website. There were numerous options, of course. But, I narrowed my options significantly by deciding that I definitely wanted a filter that removes both viruses and bacteria, not just the latter. The most cost-effective and simple thing I found is not really even a filter. It’s called SteriPEN. You stick the end of this little, vaguely pen-shaped thing into the appropriate amount of water and it kills everything dangerous in the water by zapping it with ultraviolet light. As Mother and I were discussing this clever contraption, we recalled that we already own a small pump filter that we had purchased for some excursion in Africa. She dug it out of the attic. And in the end, that is probably what I will use.
You may recall that I had emailed the Peruvian embassy and consulate and called the consulate about the visa thing. Well, I never got a reply. I was annoyed. And when my beloved father found out that I still didn’t know about my visa, he was annoyed that the Andeo people had not just told me whether or not I need one, since they are being paid to organize the details of my trip. In any case, the Andeo lady responded promptly, as always, and confirmed my suspicion: namely, I don’t need to apply for a visa. Since I will not be a proper university student, I don’t need a student visa. Therefore, when I arrive in Peru, my passport will probably be stamped with some sort of 90-day touristy visa-ish thing. And I will go on with my life.

Now we have come to the other things. tickets. applications. deferral letters. lists. Let us begin with tickets.

Before Beach Week (a biennial, week-long beach gathering of my paternal extended family), Mother had been searching for tickets to Peru and had found nothing fantastic. Then we went to Beach Week, where Uncle Tom revealed the wonders of Spirit Airlines. To put it bluntly: Spirit is cheap. Their flights cost only a third or maybe less of what other airlines charge to fly down south. ‘Tis wonderful! Of course, they don’t fly a huge number of places, but thankfully, Lima, Peru is one of the places they do fly.
The other thing about flights that is being considered is whether or not one of the parents will accompany me to Lima and send me off to Cusco. The reason for such an odd move is that there is no possible way to fly to Cusco from home without spending a night in Lima. And the parents are not quite thrilled at the thought of me spending a night in a foreign country by myself, to say the least. I am not quite sure what I think about that prospect. Regardless, one or another of my parents will probably fly down to Lima, maybe a few days early so we can tour the city, and see me off on my flight to Cusco.

I gave up on the second set of Panama DTS people (the ones on some Panamanian island called Bocas del Toro). I emailed them weeks ago and have recieved no response whatsoever. Therefore, I printed off the application for original Panama DTS and have begun the gradual process of filling it out. One must never rush these things. Or at least I do not intend to this time.

Yesterday I finally received a letter from UNC-CH. While waiting for a few brief minutes after finishing cooking supper for dad to come home so we could eat it, I moseyed down to the mailbox. I instantly recognized the UNC-CH logo on the envelope with my name visible through the flimsy plastic window of the envelope. Still juggling the rest of the mail, I ripped it open with my teeth and scanned the letter. SUCESS! Gracious and sensible Mr. Farmer granted me a deferral until the fall of 2012. God be praised! Along with some kind but scripted sentences about successes and other such worthy goals, the letter detailed the terms of my deferral: I must not deviate from what I outlined in my deferral request; I must not take any college courses; I must pay whatever fees I owe to UNC-CH; and I must write again by December 31st to confirm my deferral. Sounds feasible. My gap year is officially permissible.

I started a packing list. I discovered about a week ago that I was coming up with random but vital and not entirely obvious things to bring to Peru. And I was not writing them down. Afraid I would forget my sudden packing inspirations, I titled a loose piece of notebook paper “Peru” and jotted down my thoughts. I have been adding to it as items come to me. I have not yet started my comprehensive packing list. The current one is for things I might forget about, like cold medicine, chapstick, peanut butter (oh yes), and extra led for my mechanical pencils (just thought of that one and wrote it down). With any luck, I will have exactly everything I need, no more, no less, with me in Peru.


still waiting, mostly

I’m still waiting. Still waiting for a subset of the Panama DTS people to email me back. Still waiting for the Peruvian embassy to email me back about whether or not I need a visa. Still waiting for UNC-CH admissions to inform me if I have been granted a deferral or not. Still waiting.

Really, though, I’m not waiting on everything that I was previously. My new passport, which I was waiting for, did come. And the Panama DTS people to whom I originally sent my inquiry did email me back. Nevertheless, I feel like I’m waiting. And nothing else. I guess it’s because until I hear from the Panama DTS people, I can’t decide which DTS I will attend. And until I hear from the Peruvian embassy, I don’t know how much more paperwork I need. And until I know if I have my deferral or not, I don’t know if I will have the bother of filling out college applications again to worry about whilest I am in Peru.

Still waiting. Still somewhat clueless. Still slightly plan-less. Ah well, that’s life, isn’t it?

the deferral letter

In my usual procrastinating style, I finished writing my deferral letter today (the deadline: July 1st, as in, today). I signed it, addressed it, stamped it, and mailed it on the way to the grocery store for some items for a cake for Dad’s birthday (Happy birthday, Daddy!). Today felt like a busy day. Anyways, this is what I wrote:

Dear Mr. Farmer [the head admissions guy at UNC-CH]:

I am writing to request a deferral of my enrollment at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill from the academic year 2011-2012 to the academic year 2012-2013. I am requesting a deferral because I plan to take a “gap year” during the 2011-2012 academic year to learn, travel, pursue some of my interests, and hopefully narrow my academic focus. If I am granted a deferral, my plans for the 2011-2012 academic year are as follow:
During the fall of 2011, I will travel to Cusco, Peru for about three months (from mid September to mid December) with a program called Andeo International Homestays ( I will attend Spanish school and live with a Peruvian family. My goal for my stay in Peru is to learn Spanish, a language I love and took throughout high school. In addition to about five hours of Spanish lessons per weekday, I will volunteer my time in an orphanage or school for young children. I will also attend cultural outings and tours of the city and surrounding area. Hopefully, by the end of my three months in Peru, I will have learned much more Spanish, will be familiar with Peruvian culture, and will have made some lifelong Peruvian friends.
During the spring of 2012 (from mid January to early June), I plan to attend a Discipleship Training School (DTS: through the Christian missions organization Youth With a Mission (YWAM: For three months I will live at a YWAM base in Nicaragua with other young adults. We will attend daily lectures in both Spanish and English about evangelism, missions, and Christianity in general. I will live in group housing with other DTS attendees. As a group we will cook and clean for ourselves in between lectures and independent study. After the three months of lectures and training at the base in Nicaragua, I will either travel to a YWAM base in another country or remain in Nicaragua for the two months of practical mission work, including evangelism and relief work. I will have the opportunity to serve the local people by teaching English, building houses, or doing other such projects. By the end of my five months of Discipleship Training School, I hope to have progressed even more in my Spanish communication abilities. Also, I expect that the experience will give me more of an idea as to what I would like to study at UNC-Chapel Hill, whether Spanish or social work or international relations or something else. I will also be better equipped to explain and share my Christian faith with others.
Thank you for your time in reviewing my plans in the event that I am granted a deferral of my enrollment at UNC-Chapel Hill.



Oh, and by the by, our trip to the passport office was successful, surprisingly and pleasantly enough! The post office guy was even humorous! So, my passport should be back in early August, in plenty of time for my September departure.

bits and pieces

Wow. It’s been a while since I last posted, but not much has happened. I just have a few bits and pieces of information about various gap-year related items to relate to you, my dear reader(s).

I finished that second (“primary”) application to the Peru Spanish school program. I sent it in. I reviewed it over the phone with the nice lady with whom I have been communicating. That conversation, by the way, was really just to remind me that I’ll be a minor that and I should obey my host family’s rules and that I shouldn’t try to order a beer or something, et cetera. Besides informing me of things I already knew, the lady also answered questions I had like what the name of my school is (Academia Latinoamericana), what telecommunication option is best in Peru (a calling card), and what to do about altitude sickness (sleep a lot, don’t physically exert myself much, and consume anything containing ginger). A day or two after the phone call, I received an email notifying me that I had been accepted into the Peru gap year program. Attached to the email were six PDF files with everything from a brief Peruvian history lesson to a packing list to advice about culture shock. Printed that. Read it. Twas rather amusing, slightly helpful, and somewhat interesting. Now I am waiting to hear who my host family is, which information I am not guaranteed to have until a week before I leave. Supposedly people are typically informed much sooner. We shall see.

As for the DTS options (for your reading convenience: Columbia, Costa Rica, Panama, Nicaragua, Argentina, and Spain), I proceeded to look at the websites of each location, searching for information about the bases and conformation of the DTSs’ dates (the DTS I attend must start in January 2012). I determined that two of the bases, Columbia and Costa Rica, did not have 2012 DTSs at the correct time or for the appropriate amount of time, so I eliminated those two. Although I had been convinced for at least a week and a half that I really wanted to go to Spain, I concluded after some more thought that I did not. And here’s why: I currently fully intend to spend as many semesters of college abroad as possible (why go to college in the US when I could pay the same tuition and live in another country?). There are not many study abroad programs available in South and Central America as there are in Europe. Therefore, I want to “save” going to Spain for when I am in college and can study abroad there. Oh, and I think the last few sentences make more sense if you know that I don’t want to go to the same country more than once if I can help it; I’d rather experience other countries and return later if I can or so desire. Anyways, I eliminated Spain. About a week ago, I emailed the YWAM bases in Panama, Nicaragua, and Argentina to further enquire about the DTS dates that were unclear on their websites. I also emailed a YWAM-affiliated elementary school in Panama to find out of I could perhaps teach or teacher-assist there. Argentina emailed back to tell me that their single DTS lasted an entire year. That’s out. The Panama school emailed back to say that their school year is from March to December. Can’t do that. Nicaragua replied that their DTS starts mid January. Hey, that works! Panama has not yet answered my inquiry, which is unfortunate since I liked the looks of that base best.
As you may recall, I have to send in my pretty-please-with-a-mango-on-top-grant-me-a-deferral-til-2012 letter by July 1st. That day happens to be this Friday. Fortunately, I have already written a paragraph or three of introductory periphery and blither blather about the Peru program. Now, unless I receive an email from the Panama YWAM, make my decision between it and Nicaragua, and apply within the next two days, I intend to finish that letter with a few paragraphs on my DTS plans, put forth in the futuristic, I-intend-to-I-plan-to-I-will tense, naturally. Then, once I (hopefully) am granted my deferral, and once I have applied to a DTS program, all that will be left will be to send money here and there and wait.

Travel-wise, airline ticket plans for Peru are currently in progress. Mother did discover that it takes no less than two days to travel to Cusco, Peru, unless one desires to arrive in the middle of the night.
From what I have googled, I should not need a student visa to enter Peru (something I still need to call the US Peruvian embassy to confirm) but should simply be issued the sufficient 90-day tourist visa upon entry.
Speaking of travel documents, tomorrow we are going to try to renew my passport for the third time. Yup. Third try. The first time the post office guy informed us that he needed a photo copy of my driver’s license (something that had not been mentioned in all the fine print I had scrutinized on the US Passport website). Of course, I had left it at home since I should not have needed it. The second time, at an office in our local university, the lady thought my taken-at-home-and-edited-with-a-special-passport-tool picture was too dark and complained that I was submitting my old passport instead of a copy of my birth certificate as proof of my identity (neither of which the other guy had mentioned). She suggested they take my picture, but I declined, having already observed the ghastly photographs taken by that office for the university IDs. So, tomorrow we go again, with two versions of a bright, new picture and copies of my driver’s license, Mother’s license, and my birth certificate. Only the US government could deny us. Bah.

the second half: DTS

Even though I’m still filling out the primary (even though it was second) application for the Peru program, negotiations and option-weighing about the second part of my gap year have been somewhat continuous. The reason for such an immediate start on the planning for my life during the spring 2012 semester is an impending deadline: namely, the deadline for requesting an enrollment deferral from college. Speaking of college, I don not think that I have yet made clear that at this point I intend to attend UNC-Chapel Hill upon my return from my global adventures. Since I already applied (to avoid the inconvenience and pain of trying to fill out college applications from out of the country during my gap year) and was accepted, I must send in a written request to some certain person, in which letter I put forth all of my plans for my gap year and, in essence, beg the person to let me begin my freshman year of college in the fall of 2012 instead of 2011. According to what little I have read on the deferral matter, not many people ask for them and most are granted them if they have decent reasons and explanations and plans for their request (an insufficient reason, probably: I want to stay home and eat my parents’ food and read Lord of the Rings instead of going to school). Anyways, I have to request my deferral by July 1st, a date which is rapidly approaching, much to my dismay.

Now, after that digression, on to the real reason for this post and its title. For the second part of my gap year, I will be doing a DTS. That, my dear people, is short for Discipleship Training School, a program made possible by YWAM (which itself stands for Youth Without Any Money, or Youth With A Mission, depending on if you ask my dad or someone else). YWAM (pronounced why-wham) is, according to my vague understanding, a mainly evangelistic missions organization that has bases around the world. When they feel so lead, these bases choose to host DTSs, upon which occasions youth-ish people (say 18 to 25 years old; just kidding, their website says 17-35 – yipes that’s old! no offense to people age 35) descend upon their base en masse for three months in order to learn about evangelism and other things. The participants go to classes daily, where “speakers” – perhaps some person from the base or perhaps someone from elsewhere – teach on various topics. After the three months of the classroom-type factual learning, the group takes their knowledge and goes somewhere else (typically another country) to evangelize while doing something like teaching English. [Okay, I’m getting tired of describing this. If you are really desperate to read more about it, just click on YWAM and DTS phrases I linked above.]

The way it was decided that I would do a DTS for the second part of my gap year went as follows (and I paraphrase):

Claire: Dearest Mother and Father, I wish to go to Spanish school in Peru or Ecuador for the first part of my gap year, and for the second part I would hope to do some wild animal rescue work in Ecuador or Costa Rica.
The Parents: Okay, the first part sounds great! Apply now. But, we don’t like the second part. You need to work with people, not animals.
Claire: Woe is me. I really want to play with monkeys and parrots.
The Parents: We really don’t want you to do the animal rescue thing. We want you to do a DTS.
Claire: There are not any DTSs at the right time.
… Some time passes and Claire realizes there are DTSs during convenient dates …
Claire: Drat.
The Parents: YAY!
… Some more time passes …
Claire: I still don’t want to do a DTS. I’ve already mentally thrown it out the window. And I don’t want to reconsider it or change my mind. That’s against my principles.
The Parents: Ohhhhh, it’s against your priciples! That’s really the problem, isn’t it?
Claire: Maybe…probably…yeah. But still! I shan’t change my mind!
… Time passes …
The Parents: We really REALLY REALLY think you should consider doing a DTS.
Claire’s Translation of The Parents’ Most Recent Words: You are going to do a DTS. It is your DESTINY!
Claire: Arg. Are you sure?
The Parents: Yes, in fact now we think God’s telling us you should do a DTS.
Claire: Oh, well then, I suppose I should. I guess.
Claire to Herself: And, besides, they aren’t giving up. And that would be kind of bad to be like Jonah.
Claire to the Parents: *sigh* Okay.
The Parents: GOOD! Now, pick out the locations from which we, in conjunction with you, of course, will shall choose.
Claire: Here we go again. More research for me.

And now, after the aforementioned more research, the location options are (in no particular order) Columbia, Costa Rica, Panama, Nicaragua, Argentina, and Spain. If you have your geography in mind at present, you might note that some of those countries are not in South America. You might even observe that one is in Europe, of all places! Well, as it turns out, I have inadvertently expanded my gap year options. Originally, I planned to stick to traveling in South America. However, now I have simply limited myself to Spanish-speaking countries.

So, there you have it. I’m doing a DTS in some country where everyone but tourists and expatriates speaks Spanish.

Oh, one last thing. Regarding the application to the Peru program, I’m almost finished. It and some more money need to be turned in by June 6th, which shouldn’t be a problem, providing I can come up with about 500 more words worth of blither blather to say about myself. Until my next post (no duh)!