Monday, September 17, 2012

So, You Want To Join The Peace Corps?

I’ll preface this post with a little explanation.
For the past two years, this blog has been an outlet for me. I write when I’m happy, I write when I’m sad. I write when I’m on top of the world, and I write when nothing seems to be going right. I write mechanically when I feel the need to provide an update, and I spill all of my emotions when there’s no place else to turn. So, this Peace Corps experience that I have tried to portray to you in this blog is not always accurate. It’s certainly genuine, but if you’re trying to get a sense of what the Peace Corps is like, you can’t look at just a few of the posts; you have to take it all in. You have to recognize my highs and my lows, the passion and the emptiness.
As I complete my service, I can honestly say that I am writing this particular post with a clear mind. I’ve spent time reflecting, cataloging, decompressing, and now, at this very moment, I can say, more than ever, that I am centered. For those of you who have followed my journey (thank you!) and to those of you just joining it, here’s a look at the real Peace Corps, the one I tried to explain, but often sabotaged as a result of my own emotions.

So, you want to join the Peace Corps, eh?
First and foremost, that’s a wonderful decision! Whether you’re just finishing your bachelor’s degree or your 30-year career, you’re making the right choice. No matter who you are, you have so much to offer.
But, before you get going, here are a few things you should know.

You will find peace and purpose, I guarantee it. I also guarantee that you will cry. You will drink too much and hermit in your home cursing the day you decided to join this stupid organization. You will lose touch with old friends, and you will gain new ones. You will fall in love, and you will hate the world.
That’s all just life though, isn’t it? Peace Corps just amplifies it a few decibels.

You will glorify your past and vilify your present.
McDonald’s is NOT that good and gas, water, and electricity are NOT necessary 24/7. You don’t really miss home as much as you think you do. You’ll certainly miss small things: people, places, certain moments. Here’s a tip, if you miss your friends, don’t sit in your house ALONE sulking. Go out into your community and make new friends. If you miss things like guacamole, bacon, and sushi – well, I don’t have an answer for that one, sorry!

You will never fit in.
You will always be THE foreigner. No matter how small your community is, 2 years into living in the same place, someone will be completely baffled when they realize you speak their language. Get used to feeling like an outsider. Embrace it. In everything you do, you’ll be under a magnifying glass, constantly scrutinized. Fear not. Use it as an opportunity to constantly set a good example for the youth in your community. You’ll never be looked up to more than you are as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

You will fail at something.
You cannot let it get you down. Go into your service expecting nothing. Don’t go in with ideas of grandeur. Don’t plan on giving. Plan on learning. Plan on taking it all in and then reacting. By simply showing up you are already doing so much for your community. Don’t let the language barrier or cultural misunderstandings ruin your service’s potential.

Time is an evil temptress.
Sometimes, it will fly by (where have these 27 months gone?!). Other times, it goes backwards (it’s been 20 hours, get me off this train already!). You’ll count the months, not the days. Just be careful, the realization of “12 months down…15 months to go” can really ruin your week. On the bright side, you’ll never be bored again! Once you return to the States, a two hour trip on a paved highway will be a breeze. Waiting for only 1 hour to see a doctor will be impressively efficient.

You will be bored.
Embrace it! How often in your life can you wake up nearly every morning with absolutely nothing to do? Everyday is a new adventure, everyday is a blank canvas and you are the artist! Sometimes, they’ll be small, black and white sketches and you’ll stay inside all day watching movies and gorging on the candy from a care package. Other days, you’ll paint the Sistine Chapel and accomplish something you never thought possible! Both are okay and both will occur!

Check your ego at the door.
Seriously, this service is not about you. No matter how hard you try, many of the people you work with and for won’t ever recognize your sacrifice. Many won’t ever appreciate your accomplishments or your intentions. And, no matter how many blog posts you write or how well you write them, no one back home will fully grasp the impact of your service. Yes, your Peace Corps service is a laudable act of selflessness, but if you’re looking for a pat on the back, I suggest becoming double-jointed.

Lastly, and most importantly, you will love your service and you will hate your service. It’s hard – really hard. You will want to quit. Don’t. When you’ve returned to America, sitting back on your plush couch thinking about how you want to live the rest your life, living like you did in the Peace Corps is the first thing that will pop into your mind – on the edge, always learning, always on a new adventure.

You’ll never be more miserable than you will be when serving in the Peace Corps, but you’ll never be more fulfilled, more clear, more self-aware, more happy, I promise.

Best of luck, and thank you to all of those who supported my own adventure.

Living my dream. Thanks mom. Happy birthday!

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