Saturday, September 6, 2014

30 days?

That's it. That's all I have left on this island. 
October 2012: The day we found out where we'd be living for the next two years!

It's crazy to me how fast the last two years have flown. There were moments when I never dreamed I'd be at this point - getting ready to say goodbye, enjoying the final few weeks of this little life I've made for myself here in the South Pacific. And then it feels like yesterday when I stepped off the plane in Tongatapu and my foot touched Tongan earth for the very first time.

I've been thinking about a special way to say goodbye (amongst the other things I will be doing in country). And I thought it would be great fun to include 30 of my favorite memories/stories/things I learned in Tonga/Peace Corps throughout my time on here... one a day until I leave the island.

And because some of you asked...
What's Mandy up to next?
On October 7th I will fly down to Tongatapu (the main island in Tonga) and meet with Peace Corps staff and make my way through a mountain of paperwork so I am free to leave the country. I will also hopefully have time to meet the 79th group of Peace Corps volunteers (who just arrived in Tonga yesterday!).
On October 10th I'll start my journey back to my homeland (Wisconsin!). 
This fall? I'll be hanging out in Wisconsin with my parents and making a few little mini trips around the States reuniting with some family and friends.
January 2015 I'll continue my graduate degree at University of Colorado - Boulder with a tentative graduation date set for December 2015.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Thank You!

Well I didn't win the Blog-It home competition and that's okay!
I'm so excited for all of the winners and the opportunity to come together to talk about ways to use the third goal of Peace Corps: to bring home the world.

And that's what this little blog's goal has been the last two years.
I want to share with you from my perspective the people, culture and world of Tonga.

If you voted for Beneath a Balcony of Stars know that I am so grateful. It was an honor to be nominated and to get even more people talking (and knowing!) about The Kingdom of Tonga.

Also, with the conclusion of this contest it now means that I know officially when I'm headed back to America. The special day is October 10, 2014. 

So until then (less than 8 weeks away!) I'm going to take in each moment as it comes and make some more memories with the friends that I've made here while helping serve the people of Tonga.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Hello from Tonga!

If you were directed to this little corner of the internet from the Peace Corps Blog It Home Competition, then I'd love to welcome you! I hope you enjoy learning about Tonga and the wonderful people that live in this little island nation in the South Pacific!
If you are wondering what the Blog It Home Competition is and are interested in voting, click here.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

COS - Close of Service [Part 2]

This week Group 77 convened at a resort on Tongatapu to reflect and celebrate our service. The COS (Close of Service) training not only included story telling and reflection, but also thinking about our transition back to America (reverse culture shock, logistics, etc.).
It was surprisingly a very emotional time for me. I expect the next two months to be full of hugs and crying (it's hard to leave a place that has turned into your home), but I wasn't necessarily expecting to get emotional at this conference.
But these people have become some of my closest friends the last two years. We share a unique experience that will forever connect us.
They understand what it's been like to live on this little island for the last two years.
The conference was such a wonderful way to begin the "goodbye" process.
I am so proud of this group of people and what they've done in Tonga. We all feel so grateful for the last two years in the Friendly Islands and feel like we've all changed (for the better!) because of this experience.
Thank you Peace Corps Tonga Group 77 (and thank you PC staff for all of the support!).

Friday, August 1, 2014

Camp GLOW/GROW: Fundraising

Working closely with the campers from last year, the counselors chosen for this year's camp and with other host country nationals involved in Camp GLOW and GROW has been such a rewarding experience for Harrison, Joey and I (the co-directors of camp). It's been especially amazing to see how involved and excited these people are about creating and implementing a camp for this year.

Part of the process of preparing for camp for this year is fundraising. Money is spent on guest speakers, lodging and catering for the week of the camp and the supplies/rentals needed to help with Club GLOW/GROW after the camp in 2015. Local fundraising efforts have commenced in the Kingdom of Tonga, but there ways for others to get involved too.
If you're interested in helping with Camp GLOW and Camp GROW this year you can donate here.
Any amount helps! Thank you so much for the consideration.

Life According to... [Vol. 7]

I work with three teachers at the Government Primary School in Toula.
 Salesi (Charlie in English) is the sole male educator. 

He teaches Class 3 and Class 4 and loves to talk with me about the differences that exist between teaching in Tonga and teaching in America.

What I love about talking with him is that it isn't about figuring out which school system is the best, but talking about what works in each culture.

Here's a little bit about Salesi:
1. Salesi is only a couple years older than I am.
2. He's a family guy - happily married with a cute little daughter.
3. He's proud to be Tongan, yet loves to 'eva (wander/travel).
4. He has a deep respect for Tongan culture and is constantly making sure I kai faka-Tonga (eat like a Tongan - which means about 3 times as much as I normally eat).
5. He loves to be active - he and I worked together with the Ministry of Education to teach many of the Government Primary Schools the ta fuka (zumba dance) when the King came.

I'm very grateful to know him and to have had the opportunity to teach with him the last two years.

Thursday, July 31, 2014


I had the opportunity to spend last weekend visiting two volunteers on the outer island of 'Eua. I'm glad I waited until almost two years into my service because it reminded me of a cross between Vava'u and Northern Wisconsin (home) and thus made me a little homesick.

To get to 'Eua I jumped on a 3-hour (so much better than a 24 hour boat ride!) ferry with three other volunteers and two Tongan friends (Michael, Tynesha, Joey, Hepi and Samu), took some motion sickness pills and fell asleep under a large fleece blanket.

Chiara and Katy were waiting for us at the warf when we arrived. They were such wonderful hosts. We shared stories, cooked meals together, caught up and enjoyed each other's company.

A little bit about 'Eua: 'Eua is covered in lush rainforest (which isn't very Wisconsin-y), but there are also pine trees and hilly and beautiful fields (which is the part that reminded me of home). Both rugged and breathtakingly beautiful, this island paradise has many beaches, rocky cliffs and trails for trekking.

'Eua is the oldest island in the Kingdom of Tonga and is the place where the Polynesian god Maui supposedly stood when he fished the other 175 islands of Tonga out of the depths of the great Pacific Ocean.

We spent an afternoon hiking Fangatave (cliffs and beach). At one point I scaled a 20-foot cliff and free climbed using ropes that were tied into the side of giant volcanic rocks. It was an exciting and relaxing way to spend a few days before our COS (Close of Service) Conference began on Tongatapu (the main island in Tonga).