Celebrating Christmas in AZ


This weekend will mark the second Christmas that I’ve spent in Azerbaijan.  Although an Azeri Santa Claus exists and some holiday decorations look similar to those in the U.S., Christmas is not celebrated in this country.  I think that makes this time of year easier and harder at the same time.  It’s easier because there aren’t a ton of reminders such as Christmas songs playing around the clock.  It’s harder because people don’t understand what the holiday means and why it’s so important.  I plan to spend Christmas with friends, and I’m sure it will become another overseas holiday to remember.

In honor of the Christmas season, I received a few packages from family and friends.  One contained the traditional tale, “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”  This sparked an idea to recreate the song, Azerbaijani style.

I spoke with some volunteers nearby, and all were willing to help.  Two new PCVs played recorders while two others provided support, input, and laughter.

May you have a Merry Christmas wherever you are!

Çox sağ olun!


I recently received a shipment of books from Darien Book Aid.  This is a non-profit organization which distributes free books to Peace Corps Volunteers, libraries, and schools all over the world.

Two of my best students who have started their own English conversation club

I want to take this time to thank friends and family who have sent letters and packages my way.  A special thanks to New Brighton Elementary School for corresponding with me and my students.  For anyone who is interested in sending cards, care packages, school supplies, or books, my mailing address is:

Julie Nelson

Sühl Korpüsü Konülüsü – Peace Corps Volunteer

6600 Yevlax

Azərbaycan Respublikası

Azerbaijan Republic

…Çox sağ olun = Thank you very much!

There’s no place like home


While considering the Peace Corps, the 27 month commitment is daunting to most people… it was for me.  One may be wondering, “How much vacation time do Peace Corps Volunteers accrue?  Are PCVs allowed to travel home?  When is the appropriate time to use annual leave?”

Each Peace Corps Volunteer earns 2 vacation days for every month of service (not including training) = 48 days.  PCVs are absolutely allowed to travel back to the United States if they wish to do so.  Appropriate time of year depends on the job.  I’m an English teacher, so I’m generally not allowed to take time off while school is in session.  There is one exception (at least in PC Azerbaijan) where TEFL Volunteers can take 2 weeks during the school year for a special occasion.  That was what enabled me to be in the States for my brother’s wedding in September.

For those planning to go home at some point during Peace Corps service, I suggest it be for a specific reason; a wedding, holiday, etc.  I was nervous before returning to the U.S.; worried about reverse culture shock and how I would feel when leaving once again.  Going home specifically for my brother’s wedding helped me to think of my stay in Pittsburgh as a vacation and a short-term time of rest.  I knew that after the special event was over, I had a job and a life waiting in Azerbaijan.




Thanks to my best friends who all traveled from different states to be there

A friend who had done her fair share of international traveling gave me some advice a few years ago.  She said not to share everything with everyone.  My time overseas has been very personal and has meant more to me than I can express.  I’ve been changed by every person I’ve met, every new place, each different culture.  If I easily divulge all the details from my time abroad, I lose some of the most important part of myself.

I have thought of that advice on countless occasions.  While I usually follow the recommendation, I also know how vital it is to share what I’ve learned.  And so, I’ve made it an objective of mine to fulfill every Peace Corps goal to the best of my ability with special emphasis on number 3 because it’s the one I’ll be working on for the rest of my life:  Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

Before returning home, I was secretly dreading all of the questions and the information I would feel pressured to disclose…  I had nothing to worry about.  Once I arrived, I felt compelled to share my experiences and new-found knowledge.  I thoroughly enjoyed speaking with friends and family, and I especially loved presenting for classes at Robert Morris University (RMU) as well as my father’s Rotary Club.


Sue Jamison, RMU professor

I was able to do things I hadn’t done for one whole year.  I hugged my parents, slept in my own bed, drove my car, went to Kennywood with a bunch of friends, attended a University of Pittsburgh football game vs. Notre Dame, hosted a party, ate at a lot of my favorite restaurants, went shopping… and I enjoyed some of the small pleasures of the United States; constantly hearing and speaking English, using western toilets, smiling a lot, staying out late, being independent, and feeling free.


Volunteerism isn’t really understood by most individuals in my community.  When I tell people that I’m a “volunteer,” they seem confused.  As Americans, we have the luxury of volunteering.  From a society where many people don’t have enough money to live comfortably, why would anyone volunteer their time?  People were even more puzzled when I tried to explain that I had donated by hair to Locks of Love while in the USA.  Even if the older generation of Azeris cannot fathom working without compensation, I think that some of my most active students are starting to understand that life experience, helping others, and improving the world is more important than any paycheck.

Locks of Love

I wanted to thoroughly spread the news about my service in Azerbaijan, so I created postcards which were printed and delivered to my house.  I then distributed these to friends and family in the hopes that they would also share it with others.  Countless Americans will never step foot on foreign soil (by choice or not), but I want everyone to have an opportunity to learn about the world and develop a global perspective by reading about my story and others.

One of the most asked questions I’ve received from Americans has been, “Was it harder to go back the second time?”  My honest answer is, “It was easier because I knew what to expect, but it was harder because I knew what to expect.”  That said, I’m happy to be here.  Going home charged my batteries, and I’m ready to take this year head-on.  My job as a Peace Corps Volunteer isn’t finished, and I doubt it ever will be.

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The contents of this blog are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps.