COS Conference

I’m sure you’re figured out by now that Peace Corps is full of acronyms. I hope through reading my blog you’ve learned the major ones:

  • PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer)
  • PST (Pre-Service Training, the 3 months I spent with my cluster-mates before service)
  • LCF (Language and Cross-Cultural Facilitator = language teacher)
  • TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language-this is my job in Ukraine).
  • RPCV (Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, the title you get for completing service!)

And today, you get to learn a new acronym, probably the last one you’ll learn from me. It’s COS, which stands for Close-of-Service. Strike that, since I joined PC they modified this acronym’s meaning: today we refer to it as “Continuation”-of-Service, because volunteers are supposed to continue with the third goal of Peace Corps, taking Ukraine back to America with us when we go. Just like we’ve been trying to explain America here during our service, our next task is to explain Ukraine to Americans. I think I’ve started this in Ukraine, through my blog, but I look forward to telling everyone at home about how special of a place this is, and how so many amazing people here have touched my life.

COS is the official term for what happens at the end of a Volunteer’s service, and surprisingly enough, the end of my service is upon me. My COS date is December 7th, but that’s actually the last day I can leave Ukraine. The window for Group 39 to leave is November 9th-December 7th, so I can pick any date within that time frame to COS. I came to Ukraine with Group 39 in September 2010 and there were more than 80 of us. (We are Group 39 because we were the 39th group of Volunteers to come to Ukraine, seeing as Peace Corps has been working here since Ukrainian independence in 1991, usually sending a group in the spring and a group in the fall.)

The Peace Corps Ukraine post actually had a “mega-growth” the fall that we came, having not one but two groups (39 and 40) arrive within weeks of each other, meaning more than 150 volunteers were sent to new sites in December of 2010. After our groups’ arrival, the Peace Corps budget was cut, meaning every Peace Corps country post had to cut down and trim their budgets. So “mega-growth” ended with our groups, and now its going to be interesting to see how all 150 of us are going to COS at the same time! It’s also going to be sad to see how much Peace Corps Ukraine shrinks with our departure; 150 us are leaving and only 60 are in training at the moment (in Group 44, which arrived in September) so that means Peace Corps Ukraine is losing approximately a fourth of its work force when we leave 😦

In order for a Volunteer to COS, there is a quite a long list of things that must be done. Every group has a COS Conference three months before their COS date so Peace Corps can explain everything that we have to do in the time remaining. The conference is also a fun time when the whole group comes together and looks back on how service has been; the highs, the lows, the struggles, the achievements. Peace Corps staff thanks us for our service, and explains the next steps for transitioning back to America as RETURNED Peace Corps Volunteers.

Group 39’s COS Conference was September 23rd to 25th, and I must say, it was one of the best Peace Corps events I’ve ever attended. It was very well-organized, and they gave us lots of helpful information on how to end our service and start again with life in America. There are so many logistics to it that I hadn’t even considered; the process of saying goodbye at our sites, the Close-of-Service checklist, complete with writing a DOS (Description of Service) which must be completed before we get clearance to leave the country, “non-competitive eligibility” for jobs (meaning RPCVs get preference with some governmental organizations), the formidable idea of job searching post-Peace Corps, and also health-care after Peace Corps.

We’ve had complete health care for free the last two years, with Peace Corps Medical Officers standing by to treat any illness or injury we acquire. Medication was included in that, so now its a wake-up call hearing how much we’re going to have to pay to get medical insurance back in the states. The cheapest alternative for RPCVs is $200 a month, which is more than a Volunteer makes in a month. I think the cost of living is going to be a shock; I’m anticipating that already. And that will make the job-search even more stressful, having the pressure on to be able to pay the bills… at least knowing I’ll be at home for a while means I won’t have rent to pay right away!

Discussion time at COS Conference, talking about our lessons learned.

The COS Conference also included some closure on what the last two years have meant to us, and how we can close this chapter gracefully while moving on to what life holds for us in America. We had a reflective session on how our Peace Corps service has changed us, and the introspection did me some good. I realized how much I’ve matured in the last two years; how much I’ve learned to appreciate solitude, how much flexibility I’ve gained, how I went from high-maintenance to mid-maintenance (I still won’t claim I’m low maintenance, you all know that’s a lie anyways), how much perspective I’ve gained, how less self-obsessed I’ve become, and most importantly, how empowered I feel after two years in Peace Corps. I know now that I can adapt, cope and overcome anything if I’ve survived the last two years… and that’s a great feeling. Our COS Conference helped me realize how important my service has been, and how much I have to be proud of as I close this chapter. Its not only about the work I did in my community and at school, but the personal growth I’ve experienced myself. I already knew this fact before our COS conference, but it still holds true: joining Peace Corps was the best decision I’ve ever made.

The COS Conference was also fun because I got to see so many friends, as well as people I haven’t seen since our swearing-in two years ago. Ukraine is a big place, and I rarely saw Volunteers who were posted in the east. It was nice hearing about everyone’s adventures : )

Group 39 at our COS Conference

And a silly shot of Group 39.

Here is a picture of my favorite Group 39ers… my CLUSTER MATES! We started this adventure together two years ago, and here we all are at the end. So proud you guys, we made it!

Andrew, Tammela, me, Janira, and Andrew

Trying out a Ukrainian pose, but failed and smiled like the Americans we are.

And last, but not least, here is a picture of my cluster mates and our link mates. We were paired up in PST (Pre-Service Training) to have some training together, and what I didn’t know then was that these people would be some of my closest friends in Peace Corps. This picture is pure love to me… I would not have lasted the two years without their friendship and support. So here’s a shout out to my all my cluster and link matesyou guys are the best.

From left: James, Michelle, Andrew C, Andrew K, Tammela, Janira, me, Chris (behind me), Phil, and Andrew G.

After the COS Conference concluded, I headed to Kyiv for a few days. I had a final meeting to close my grant, an LPI (Language Proficiency Interview) to assess my final level of Ukrainian proficiency, and lastly, a little field trip to this place called CHERNOBYL! Check out the next blog post for pics.

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