Our first day of training was officially March 5th. I flew out to Washington D.C. three days early to explore the city and play tourist for a bit. On the fifth I checked into the Skyline Hotel to find a lobby full of people my age with travel backpacks and luggage. There were hundreds of us. I hadn’t known what to expect but it seemed like an overwhelming amount. I soon learned that there were several Peace Corps training groups arriving for pre-departure training bound for several different countries. One group was leaving that day for The Gambia while others were leaving the next day for Senegal, Nicaragua, along with my group bound for the Dominican Republic. I checked in and began chatting it up groups of people. I was still a little early and as time passed groups dispersed and I started to find the other trainees who were heading for the DR. There were 33 of us in total. Most of us are in our mid-twenties and have similar experiences, study abroad, some Spanish, college degrees, etc. We also all seemed to have the same expectations, none. The PC has a habit of keeping everything purposefully vague. This in itself is part of the training, to promote and build flexibility, easily the most thrown around word throughout training.
I had heard that Pre-Departure Training was more or less the last chance to bail if you were still on the edge about the 27 month commitment. It didn’t seem to me that this was the idea. We went through a stack of paper work and got some safety training, but what we all really got out of it was the opportunity to start forming bonds and friendships with our fellow trainees. The gnawing in my stomach that had told me that I wasn’t ready to leave home subsided immediately. Where I expected to meet a bunch of unrealistic, self-important hippies, I found 32 people shockingly similar to me. Athletes, musicians (I’m not), and people who love to, and know how to laugh. We all seemed to click instantly, well before we learned each other’s names.
Training lasted all day the 5th and we were scheduled to leave for the airport in the morning at 2 AM. After an hour or so of sleep for most of us, we made our way to the airport and took off just before a massive snowstorm kicked in the front door to our nation’s capital. We found out later that we were the only flight to leave that day.
That was only two days ago and I feel like more has happened than in the three months that I was home. We spent our first night in the country in church retreat center or a convent. It was never really explained. The next day we went directly to our new training center. The Center is on four or five acres of beautiful, lush, tropical, vegetation. Roosters roam the grounds and a dozen or so different fruit trees shade the small outdoor cabins where we have our classes and sessions. Keeping us safe are two very friendly and hilariously bored looking guards with massive shotguns that they wield like little girls with jump ropes. Aside from our mercenaries, it’s so easy to forget that we are in the middle of the biggest city in a country with its fair share of violence, poverty, and drug activity. It feels like Eden.
We have spent the first few days practicing Spanish and sitting in on sessions in safety and Dominican culture. I have started to feel as if we are being a bit babied by the staff and trainers as we don’t really have the freedom to explore yet. It’s certainly understandable and they have been in the DR since 1962, so they surely know what works and what doesn’t; however, it’s difficult to suppress my excitement and curiosity to explore.