fullsizeoutput_60e.jpegI woke up Monday morning in a weird “excited yet exhausted” state, the result of a late-night Swearing In Eve bash and the official conclusion of pre-service training. In the matter of only a couple of hours, yours truly would finally be able to call myself a real, live Peace Corps Volunteer! To commemorate the occasion, I sported my official PCV t-shirt that every volunteer around the world gets. We received the shirts Friday afternoon, but I didn’t want to jinx anything so decided to save it’s maiden wearing for swearing-in day.

Breakfast brought a whole new wave of anxieties and nerves, as the dining room was not only filled with American almost-PCVs, but also an overwhelming number of Thai counterparts, the people we’ll be working along side of for the next two years and who’d be taking us “home” in a couple of days. Many people compared the morning to a blind date, as volunteers and counterparts only knew what each other looked like from photos. It made for an interesting dose of awkward to go with my morning coffee and toast.

IMG_3216Our swearing-in ceremony was very much like a high school graduation, minus my forest green robes and hats (oh, the hats – not one of my favorite accessories). Distinguished guests, including our Peace Corps Country Director, C. Howard Williams, and the United States Ambassador to Thailand, Glyn T. Davies, spoke and thanked the incoming PCV class for our service and dedication to the people of Thailand.

In a very official and goosebump-ey fashion, we raised our right hands and recited the oath that more than 5,000 others in Thailand have taken before us. As I listened to the very surreal sound of my own voice repeating the words Howard said for us, I couldn’t help but smile and think to myself, “Wow, this is for real.”

Peace Corps Volunteer Oath

I, (first name, last name) do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. [So help me God.]

IMG_3252When the ceremony was over, the group of newly sworn-in volunteers broke into a picture-taking frenzy and buzzed around the ballroom for a long while. After getting my cliché “flag picture” and taking selfies with my beloved language Ajaans, I slipped away from the madness to say hello to an unexpected attendee.

Prior to the event, I didn’t know Emily, who works for the American embassy in Bangkok, would be attending the day’s festivities. Although I had never actually met Emily in person, I knew a lot about her because our moms are both volunteers for the same medical non-profit in Wisconsin. As if that’s not enough of a connection for you, Emily’s brother, Tim, is actually married to one of my friend’s sisters. Yes, okay, it’s not a direct connection or anything, but it definitely fits into that “six degrees of separation” thing people talk about. Regardless of the connection, it was great to see Emily, who also happens to be a Returned PCV, at such an exciting, momentous event!

After taking a couple more photos with friends and PC staff members, I was again approached by Emily, but this time she wasn’t alone. As a quick confused look spread across my face, I noticed Emily was caring a gift bag and a big, orange envelope. Emily explained that she actually knew she was attending the ceremony a couple of weeks ago, but wanted to keep it a secret so she could orchestrate a surprise. Just as she finished explaining, my eyes welled with tears as I finally noticed the handwriting on the outside of the orange envelope; who could mistake their own mom’s handwriting after all? At this point, Ambassador Davies and Director Williams approached to admit that they, too, were in on the surprise. Another photo-op and lots of congratulatory hugs followed, but I waited to open the envelope until I was in a more private setting because, thanks to those famous Allard emotional genes, I knew there’d be a flood of tears.

Bottom: Ambassador Davies, Me, Director Williams, Emily

When lunch was over I did just that, I snuck away to my hotel room and opened the envelope to find two cards, one from friends and another from family. Both cards were filled with notes, congratulations, and love, each of which warmed my heart and fueled my many happy tears. Oh, and the gift bag contained two packages of American Oreos (regular and mint!), not the Thai ripoff Oreos with half as much filling. Yummy yummy!

I know I’ve said it before, but there’s absolutely no way I’d be where I am right now, doing what I’m doing without the people at home cheering me on, encouraging me and pushing me to overcome the challenges. So, to those who signed the cards, I can’t thank you enough for making my very special day even more special. And for those who didn’t sign anything but are still reading my blog and sending well wishes, thank you as well. In no way will the next two years be a solo journey and I’m beyond excited to share it with all of you.