Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 in review

It’s the week of lists and reviews, the year in review, top 10 lists of the year past, and lists for the year that is just hours away.  Well, if newspapers can do it, then why not Embarkations?  So, forthwith and without pause, looking back on the past year.  (Skip to the end to see the most popular stories.)

Sparing for a last minute run-up in the numbers, 2011 saw:
·         3,385 visits from 2,346 unique visitors (about 9.3 hits/day)
·         The average visit lasted for a little over a minute and looked at 1.4 posts
·         68% of visits were from new visitors

Top countries of origin were as followed:
1.       United States
2.       Moldova
3.       Canada
4.       U.K.
5.       Romania
Although by far, the most interested readers came from Moldova, whose visitors stayed longest and visited the most pages.

Some surprises coming from the U.S., where I’m most popular in Tennessee, followed by California, New York, Texas, and then Illinois at #5.  Colorado came in ninth and Iowa fourteenth.  Overall, visitors represented 95 different countries and all 50 states.

In life, 2011 was a pretty awesome year, with a few strong highlights:
·         Friends: ringing in 2011 in Brasov with Amanda, Sinh, and Miranda.
·         Service: finishing my first year, and all of a sudden being the “experienced one” in the Bloc
·         Work (youth): Winning Plural+ Moldova with my students’ first short film
·         Work (medical center): opening our public showers and hygiene improvement project for the elderly who use the soup kitchen
·         Work (partners): seeing my partner teacher coach new partners through practice school and standing next to my nurse partner – who is terrified of public speaking – speak to a room of more than 80 women about breast cancer
·         Vacation: hard to choose, they were all so amazing, but I think I’ll choose Krakow and Berlin for the HIA conference.
·         Family: seeing Keith and Eugene get married in Korea (cheating, I know, it’s also vacation)
·         Integration: My host-sister Rodica’s wedding
·         For the Peace Corps family: Thanksgiving (integration points for killing a turkey)

I’m also critical of lists, of course, because they tend to wax over the daily flow of life and make it all about the big moments.  In reality, life, and most of Peace Corps, is what happens in between the big successes.  Still, when most readers are so far away, I suppose it doesn’t hurt to distill things down a bit.

And finally, what were the year’s most read stories?
·         Most read story written this year: Another Cup: follow-up on Greg Mortenson, with 523 views
·         Most read post of the year: My Peace Corps Aspiration Statement (posted prior to my departure with Peace Corps), with 1,467 views
The Mortenson piece also generated the most daily traffic I’ve ever seen, garnering 200 visitors in a day and earning first place as the most commented piece on the blog.  Maybe I should follow scandals more often in 2012. (Kidding)

This time last year, I had finished my first semester, and thought, wow, 25% done, looking forward to a productive year of new initiatives.  Now, I’m looking around and saying, wow, it’s almost done, but there’s still so much to do.  How am I going to tie it together?

So, with that, here’s to what has been a great 2011 of successes (and trials)! And here’s to a great 2012 ahead, a year of transitions.  And what could be truer to Embarkations’ theme than that?  Happy New Year and fiți sănătoși!

Monday, December 19, 2011

First place at Plural+ Moldova!

Our film, Casa Parinteasca, took first place at the 2011 Plural+ Moldova National Youth Film Competition!

First Place!

See this Embarkations' post for background on migration in Moldova and our film, which can also be viewed on YouTube here (click the Closed Captioning button in the bottom right of the video player to enable English subtitles).

Plural+ is an international youth film competition run by the International Organization for Migration, but because migration is such a pressing issue here in Moldova, the local country office also runs a national version of the contest.

The film was entirely made by my student film club I run with my partner teacher Olga.  The club's name is "Tinerii Operatori" (Young Camermen), but the kids publicly named our "production unit" Carahasani Studios. The club first started when I mentioned in passing to Olga my intention to post the call for submissions and ask some students if they'd like to participate.

The premier and awards ceremony was held last Friday, at Malldova, Moldova's first (and arguably only) rich-country style mall. (Malldova, Moldova, get it?) The IOM invited all participating teams to the premier ceremony, and even made it possible for teams such as mine to attend by paying for transportation costs.

One thing that seems to transcend Moldovan-American culture is the role of the mall in a teenager's universe, so I knew the event would be a big deal for them.  Still, it's hard to transplant oneself into the place of a rural teenager from a developing country, and even harder to imagine the culture shock they must feel when suddenly dropped right into the center of American consumerism, something only the most elite of the country have access to.  It really hit home for me when Dana, a 9th grader who sat next to me on the bus we rented, squealed at the site of the city.  Then she leaned over, and in a barely restrained whisper told me this was going to be her third time in the city.  Third.  I probably spend more time in the capital in meetings alone during an average month than Dana has spent there her entire life.

We spent a lot of time trying reign in students' expectations ahead of time, saying the cliche types of things that parents say, but that kids always wonder if they really mean.  "It's not about winning.  You've learned so much in this process.  Let's just go and have a good time at the awards ceremony."  I stand by all those statements, but turns out, yeah, adults still want to win.  In fact, watching my students beam after the ceremony, I realize adults probably want the kids to win even more, because winning something yourself doesn't even begin to compare to the feeling of watching your students win something they worked hard for.

Three students (left) giving an interview.
After the awards, our students were the stars of the show.  They took pictures, made friends with other kids, laughed, ate, and even gave 3 interviews (radio, print, and television).  Thankfully, they did not give their dear teachers heart attacks, who had been a bit nervous about chaperoning 24 6th-9th graders from a village around a 4 story mall in the middle of a bustling capital.

As a reward, we took them the the central plaza to see the national Christmas Tree and New Year's decorations.  They'd all seen it on TV, but most of them had never seen it in person.  For those readers who don't grasp Moldovan kids' obsession with taking poze (posed photos), the sheer joy this reward provided cannot be overstated.

Chisinau's National Christmas decorations!

While Plural+ was our initial impetus, once Olga got involved the group became about a lot more than this one contest.  We're already storyboarding our next couple films, a documentary about the village school and a public service announcement about a health topic.  It's incredible how much the kids have learned; in their first attempt, they were able to come up with a sophisticated metaphor where a house personifies the feelings of those left behind in a country that has fallen into disrepair.  Meanwhile, Olga is already planning how to continue Carahasani Studios after I leave.

Celebrating on the bus ride home, (dance party!)
Poze, at Moldova's National Christmas tree.

The Carahasani Studios team (well, most of it; some of them were
running around taking more poze...)

Friday, December 9, 2011

Trans-theoretical Moldel of Behavior Change: Presentation

Human behavior is at the center of global health challenges today.  Whether trying to decrease smoking, increase hand washing, or advocating more balanced diets, changing a few key behaviors holds more potential to improve overall human health and wellness than just about any treatment-based solution.  Consequently, it occupies a key place in public health - the core preoccupation fueling the growth of the entire sub-field of health education.

Likewise, behavior change campaigns - or in the case of youth, often negative behavior prevention campaigns - are at the center of Peace Corps Moldova's Health Education program.  Everything we do, from classes to community initiatives, is essentially part of a broader strategy tackling the slow and difficult process of helping people to take control of their own health for the better.

Needless to say, I've spent a lot of time thinking about behavior change these past couple years (after all, it's also key to Vitality In Action Foundation's work).  I'll have some thoughts on the broader process of behavior change in a future post, but in the meantime, last month I had the pleasure to lead a 5 day In-Service Training on community-based behavior change campaigns for 33 Health Education Peace Corps Volunteers, Moldovan nurses, and community partners (social assistants and teachers).

Below is the presentation I gave on behavior change theory, primarily focused on the Trans-Theoretical/Stages of Change Model.  Contact me if you'd like to use; slides also available in Romanian.

This entry is cross-posted here to "The Vitality Blog".