Monday, August 15, 2016


Written June 2016...

It's a funny thing to miss something before it's even over. The preemptive nostalgia for my Peace Corps service in Paraguay has started to hit hard as I wrap up my classes and events, handover my knowledge to the new volunteer already living in my site and say goodbye to friends knowing that it may be the last moment we share for a long while.

Peace Corps has been two years of momentary highs and lows, but looking back on it all the experience has been so good.  And I still have time to make a few more memories. One of which, recently was my third birthday in Paraguay. I don't know how I got so lucky, but my birthday celebrations here have been nothing less than epic. A surprise party in my training community, a crazy 3 day celebration for my 30th complete with compañeros, a list of 30 birthday dares and bowling in Argentina, and this year a rock show.  This was not your normal rock show, I was actually in it, playing the bass and channeling my inner Bowie by singing Ziggy Stardust on stage. Did that actually happen?! I swear, Peace Corps gives you the liberty and courage to do things unimaginable. Maybe it's because you're already so far outside of your comfort zone that doing a backflip off the cliff seems totally reasonable if you have to jump anyway. Or maybe it's because the support system of fellow volunteers, Paraguayan friends and adopted family is so strong you know there will always be enough hands waiting to catch your fall.

I have been thoroughly humbled and empowered during my time here, and at this moment feel profoundly grateful for the chance I've had to be accepted into the homes and hearts of so many amazing people. I often wonder why I have chosen a life that takes me away from friends and family, landing in strange places with unfamiliar cultures and languages. Then I leave the once strange place with new friends, family and a sense of home, struggling to return to a place where I thought home was to begin with. 

 I think that maybe through opening and closing this cycle several times now that I realize the key is taking home with you.  I'm meant to find friends and family in many places, in many cultures, in many languages. I am thankful to have the opportunity to carry so many people's stories, struggles and love with me and in turn to leave my impression on so many hearts.

So now what? Another beginning fed by a bittersweet end, that can never really be distinguished from one or the other. I'll flow into the next adventure and for now dream of what could be and enjoy the last of what I have now, instead of feeling sad for a door that hasn't closed quite yet.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Closing the Cycle and Changing the Frame

The sudden realization of letting 4 months slip by without writing a post is yet another reminder of how the past two years of my Peace Corps services has flashed by.  Since December I have written my graduate thesis and touched down in three other countries outside of Paraguay.  I started teaching one last business planning class for young entrepreneurs and am working on wrapping up all the loose ends of my past projects. Just this week I was introduced to the next volunteer who will be living in Encarnación.  She's an accomplished and motivated young professional with a plethora of opportunities to make a difference in Paraguay, a lot like myself not so long ago.

And just like that, my 2 year cycle begins to come to a close.  Life after Peace Corps isn't so clear at the moment, but the promises of happy reunions with family and friends, attending my graduation ceremony and diving into the challenge of entering the professional world are all on the horizon.  The importance of "squeezing the last drops" out of my Paraguayan life, a favorite Spanish saying of mine, is more real than ever.  Each class, each dinner with friends, each sunset from the terrace is to be savored and enjoyed to its fullest.  Instead of getting too far ahead of myself, I want to honor the significance of being here.

Paraguay Emprende Local Workshops and 2015 Winners Receive Seed Funding Awards

Encarnación Sustentable Strategic Planning Retreat

Encarnación Sustentable Finishes its By-Laws as a Formal Association

To show you how far I have come during my service, I would like to share the transcript of a short speech I recently gave to my Peace Corps peers and the Peace Corps Paraguay staff.  Despite the challenges and the doubts, I can confidently say that I have found joy in Paraguay.  I would like to thank everyone who read through, helped edit and listened to me practice this speech.

Peace Corps Paraguay: Change Your Frame

I want to start out by referencing a concept that everyone encounters on a daily basis.  It’s a communication and storytelling technique called “framing.”  In essence, framing refers to the way a story or message is presented, which ultimately influences the choices the audience makes on how to process that message. Frames impact both interpretation and attitude toward a story whether we as the storyteller are aware of using them or not.  Frames often tend to be agendas or biases that slant incoming messages.  But rarely do we think about how we frame our own personal experiences from our daily lives within our own minds.  The way we, perhaps unconsciously, frame our experiences begs the question, “What story are we telling ourselves?  

Each and every one of us sees life in a different lens, captured like a camera, within our own minds. Today, I’d like to share a personal story with you about how seemingly small changes to my own frame greatly impacted the joy I found in my Peace Corps service in Paraguay.

I had serious self-doubts surrounding my site placement as a volunteer in Encarnacion.  It was not about the mission of my work but the reality in which I was supposed to carry it out.  First, the temperatures:  Hot, and I mean sweltering for a Montana girl. Not to mention, urban. What the heck was I supposed to do with the solar light, the straight blade and the garden seeds I had packed along with all the expectations I had of leading a pioneer life?  In my mind’s eye, I was having a hard time coming to terms with where I saw myself at the moment and I wondered relentlessly of alternative possibilities.  My frame was narrow, my lens was negative, laced with doubt, and limiting my experience. 

I started teaching my first employability class early on in my service, mainly because I’m not really good at being still.  The highlight reel of my first class comes to mind right now.  I can see myself there, nervous about language mistakes, about content, about cultural miscommunication and suddenly I find myself teaching the class in total mortification because every single student is sitting in the row of extra desks in the very back of the classroom, instead of the circle of desks I had carefully prepared up front.  Questions are racing in my mind, What did I do wrong as a facilitator, a volunteer, a person?  The jumbotron in my mind flashes “epic fail,” an affirmation of the insecurity I had already imposed on the situation.  I had quickly framed the experience with negativity and failure.

If I could have accepted that moment as a cultural quirk, which I’m sure most of you have the pleasure of experiencing on the daily, maybe I could have seen past my frame to the possible positive outcomes of my being there.  For example, experiencing first-hand the amazing story of Soraya, a 17 year who took the tools she developed in this class to get a job at the university in her barrio.  Soraya would tell me later that it was because of that job she decided to sign up for classes and pursue a career in psychology. 

Instead of building upon this win, I was so focused on the curve balls that Paraguay was throwing my way that it took me a while to find the key to not striking out.  I allowed the communicative, cultural and bureaucratic hurdles to put a spin on my stories, so much so that I was missing out on all the little moments of joy.  Doubt continued to frame my experience.  Fortunately, what happened next would completely shift my frame from doubt to joy.

During this time, The community organization, Encarnacion Sustentable, was becoming more autonomous and started planning projects, teaching charlas and painting incredible murals around the city to raise awareness for environmental sustainability and social justice.  My star youth leader, Fabi, organized a presentation at a middle school, where she told the students with tears in her eyes how community service helped her find her happiness outside of a broken home.  After a painstaking six month wait for the winners of Paraguay Emprende, the national entrepreneurship program, to receive their seed funding awards, I am happy to announce that those 30 young entrepreneurs now have the knowledge and a little bit of cash to help them fulfill their dreams. 

Instead of my experiences being captured in the shadow of doubt, I was slowly beginning to re-frame my service with the joy of being here.  My perceived personal shortcomings were far outweighed by the fearlessness and growth of the youth I was working with.  I opened the lens of my mind wider to accept each moment, and celebrate the accomplishments of those around me, focusing on how I could facilitate change in others and in doing so change myself.

Recently, I returned home from vacation to find that, for the second time, my bike, and primary means of transportation, had been stolen.  But this time my mental camera didn’t catch me throwing a fit, getting angry or beating myself up.  It simply was what it was, framed as another learning experience. 

Life in Paraguay can be good, bad or neutral depending on what frame you CHOOSE to see it through.  A quote I stumbled upon that has helped me become more accepting of my experiences here and leave behind the spin I put on my own stories, reads, “How do you know this is the experience you need? Because this is the experience you are having at the moment.”

This leads me to ask each one of you, What happens when you consciously change your frame from one of resistance to acceptance?  Your attitude changes and the outcomes follow. The lesson for me and I hope for you too, is to embrace your power as the cameraman, the director and the producer of your Peace Corps service.  Focus on welcoming every experience with an open frame that will allow you to find joy in that moment, right here in Paraguay.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Happy Holidays from the Heart of South America

Season’s greetings from Paraguay to my faraway family and friends!

My time here in the Peace Corps has been slipping by from what was once a daunting and some say crazy two-year endeavor to what now seems insufficiently short. 
Even though I’ve lived it first hand, I look back and think, ¿Es posible? (is it possible), that I’ve had so many adventures, overcome so many obstacles, connected with so many people and still have so many lessons yet to learn during my last six months here in the heart of South America.

The heart.  Paraguay is just that, and it’s helped me to open mine to many things.  Sometimes it’s flowing over with kindness and hospitality, other times it’s a sanguine and emotional rush, but most times Paraguay is the steady beat of a tranquilopa (relaxed/chilled-out) philosophy that will be hard to let go. 

There’s also the heart I see in all of the young people I work with here in Paraguay, who have hope for a better, more just, more prosperous Paraguayan future. “Otro mundo es posible,” (another world is possible), they say, and I most wholeheartedly agree.

So, my most humble holiday wish is to appeal to your heart to accompany me in my work here in Paraguay.  I have been the coordinator of a national program called Paraguay Emprende for the past year, which gives young entrepreneurs the tools they need, including a small investment of seed funding, to make another world possible for themselves, their families and their communities.  This has been my most impactful and gratifying project, and I invite you to join me in a holiday giving campaign by doing whatever you can to help spread the word about this cause.

Please take a few minutes to explore and share our crowdfunding page and if you have the time, the heartfelt video from, Walter, one of our past participants:  It inspires me to see how far one young person with a dream and a little help from those who believe in him can go.  Heck, that’s how I got here, thanks to all of you.

Wishing you joyous holidays and a better future for 2016!

Warm regards, Emily

Monday, November 9, 2015

Cross-Continental Whirlwind

Finally I feel as though I am adjusted back to reality after September and October were spent in a travel time-warp.  Even though I was only gone for about a month in total, the preparation and then decompression from a journey through four countries, (I am counting Texas as its own country), feels like I had been checked-out for much longer.

My solo journey back the the US for my sister's wedding reception and a quick family visit started with a bus ride and a border crossing from Ciudad del Este to Foz do Iguazu and then a flight from Sao Paolo to Houston and finally landing in San Antonio for a couple days to visit my sweet little Grammy and my Aunt, Uncle and cousins.  Good company, micro-brews and homemade fajitas did not disappoint.  But admittedly I was a little shell shocked while driving in rush hour on the interstate and especially when trying to work the technologically advanced ice-maker in my Aunt's fridge. "Yes," I thought to myself, "I have been in Paraguay for too long."

After three days in Texas I hopped another series of flights that deposited me in the midst of the Rocky Mountains, beautiful Whitefish, MT, my home.  Glued to the window, gawking at the Bob Marshall Wilderness, as we got closer to Kalispell, I exchanged friendly chit chat with the tourist who seemed more excited at that moment about my homecoming than I was.  However, when I saw my mom jumping up and down on the other side of the glass wall that separates the two terminals from the lobby in the Glacier International Airport, tears welled up in my eyes and I ran to greet my folks with joyful embraces.

It felt so amazing to be in my element, even though I felt totally estranged from it, for the next ten days.  Spending time with my friends and family and enjoying the beauty of Montana and all her treasures filled up every waking second.  I was exhausted but overstimulated every day as I raised my red solo cup of Salmon Fly Honey Rye to the newlyweds, climbed Great Northern Peak looking into Glacier National Park (an 8,705 foot shock to the system), and caught glistening cutthroat at a family favorite high mountain lake that resulted in five stitches - a small price to pay to take Montana's mark along with me for the rest of the journey.

It seemed like that old cliche, "things change but they stay the same," applied to both Montana and myself.  It was amazing to fall back in so easily to the groups of people I had quit cold turkey for the last 16 months, but a part of me felt sad for the friends and family I had left in Paraguay, and will leave for an undetermined amount of time when I go back to the states for good in 9 months.  It's a funny place to be, nostalgic for something that hasn't ended yet.

I bid my mom goodbye at the Missoula airport and met up with a Montana friend in Denver over lunch.  From there I flew to Sao Paulo where I met up with another Montana buddy who traveled with me through Brazil and Paraguay for the next two weeks.  Our final destination was Curitiba, Brazil where we soaked in the local sites, including a national park reminiscent of a slice of Canyonlands National Park in Utah, if it were covered in jungle.

Then we hopped on a scenic train through the misty jungle covered mountains and stopped in Morrettes, a beautiful colonial mountain town.  From there we hopped a couple buses and a boat to arrive at Honey Island, or Ihla do Mel at dusk.  Dolphins rose close to the boat and we cheers-ed with a Brazilian beer to the upcoming adventure.

After 3 days of camping, hiking and enjoying the island, we made moves to return to Paraguay, but stopped first at the incredible waterfalls at Foz do Iguazu.  Although it was my second time visiting the falls, it still took my breath away, especially when we doused ourselves under one of the waterfalls entering the "devils throat" or "garganta del diablo," in a speedboat raft hybrid.

After an especially tricky boarder crossing, we spent a few hours waiting for, hands down, the most horrendous overnight bus I have taken in Paraguay (and that is saying quite a bit).  I drifted in and out of consciousness as we stopped every half hour or so and boxes were thrust in my window and over my head, then lighting struck and rain drizzled in through my window that didn't close for what seemed like an eternity.

Fortunately the hell-bus deposited us in Encarnacion, home sweet home, where we spent a few days seeing the sights. But we didn't stop for long. We headed to Asuncion, caught an Argentina vs. Paraguay soccer match at the national stadium and hopped on a small military plane to Bahia Negra, in the heart of the Paraguayan Pantanal.  After standing on top of a peak looking into Glacier Park only two weeks before, I associated the same feeling of grandeur and natural majesty with the Pantanal, only in a completely different context.  The Pantanal is the largest wetland in the world, where the Amazon basin drains all of its waters, and the Paraguayan side is by far the most remote part.  We rode a speed boat up the Rio Paraguay to its confluence of Rio Negro where the murky Rio Paraguay was noticeable cut by the clear dark water of the smaller Rio Paraguay.  At that point the tri-boarder region of Paraguay, Bolivia and Brazil appears, though there are no signs of civilization that would reveal it.

We spent three days at an eco-lodge and biological research station watching wildlife such as caymen and giant river otters from tree stands, photographing and identifying a handful of the 250+ bird species in the area and fishing for piranha from canoes.  We did not want to leave this incredible wilderness, so instead of flying back, my friend and I took the merchant boat back down the Rio Paraguay for two days.  The boat was a cultural experience of its own, and we felt, and certainly smelled, like wild-west pirates making our way from river-town to river-town, stopping at each port along the way to take on cargo and people and then unload them again.  Besides being able to buy weekly staples in a market in the lower hull of the boat, there was everything from a pony to a washing machine on board.  Indigenous people in cowboy garb spoke languages other than Guarani and Spanish and we played slap-jack with their kids at the lunch counter until we all took siestas as a hot and humid thunder stormed rolled over us.

Arriving in Concepcion signified our return to the land-lubber life and to civilization.  We had traveled through the Pantanal and Gran Chaco by boat, an adventure few foreigners or even Paraguayans make in a lifetime...I hope I get the chance to go back one more time!

After a stop-over at another volunteers site and a few bus rides my friend and I parted ways.  She was heading to Bolivia and I was heading home, finally, after covering thousands of kilometers swept up in a whirlwind of travel and adventure.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Press Release & Video: Paraguay Emprende National Workshop 2015

August 21, 2015

Paraguay Emprende is celebrating the successful conclusion of the 2015 National Workshop and Business Plan Competition which took place from August 13 to 15 in the city of Luque near the capitol, Asunción.  The national workshop and business plan competition was made possible by the collaborative efforts of Peace Corps Paraguay, the Secretary of Youth of the Paraguayan National Government, the Cooperativa Universitaria and the Asociación de Jóvenes Empresarios, a non-profit network of young entrepreneurs.

The 2015 theme “Realizar Tus Sueños,” or “Realize Your Dreams,” highlighted the possibility for Paraguayan youth to convert their entrepreneurial dreams into reality.  The activities at the three-day workshop concentrated on promoting the entrepreneurial spirit, and specifically focused on business plan implementation, networking and financing.  These topics were enriched by the expertise of Paraguayan organizations such as KOGA, a social enterprise incubator, and Fundación CIRD, an economic development non-profit.

57 youth participants representing 11 departments of Paraguay presented their business plans, which had been developed over the past several months in Paraguay Emprende’s “Construye Tus Sueños,” or “Build Your Dreams,” entrepreneurship courses.  The participants valiantly pitched their business ideas to Paraguayan business professionals who acted as judges to determine the viability of each project.  PYG$84.000.000 was awarded in seed funding to the 30 participants who’s business plans were most likely to yield sustainable businesses and a positive community impact.

Paraguay Emprende will now move forward with the follow-up stage of its program cycle by providing the seed funding winners mentoring and consulting services.  To conclude the National Workshop, winners we paired with Paraguayan mentors who over the next year will provide their specific industry expertise, support and perspective to each young entrepreneur, in order to help them successfully navigate the challenges of establishing a successful and sustainable business in Paraguay.

For more information, please find Paraguay Emprende on Facebook, visit our website at or send us an email at