Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Packing Progress

In the wake of the exhausting recent weeks, I’d like to share this letter I stumbled across that describes what being Peace Corps Volunteer is like very well. Titled, “An Open Letter,” the following was written by a Cambodian PCV (posted on http://thesharpiemarkerapproach.tumblr.com/post/42420977797/an-open-letter):
“Dear Person Contemplating Joining Peace Corps,
I imagine that you’re at a transition point in your life. Perhaps you’ve just graduated, perhaps you’re going through a career change, perhaps you have an itch for something more that can’t be scratched. Whatever the reason, here you are: contemplating joining Peace Corps.
But should you? Is it right for you?
Honestly, you might not know that until you’ve arrived. You can research by reading books and official publications or by talking with current/returned volunteers, but everything you read and hear will probably tell you the same thing: every person’s experience is different. Your Peace Corps life will be uniquely shaped by your country, program, and site.
I’d like to think, though, that there are a few things that are universal throughout the Peace Corps world, and those things tend all to revolve around how you yourself will change – for the better and for the worse – because of your time in Peace Corps.
‘Sanitary’ will become an obsolete concept. You will eat on mats that you know are saturated in urine. You will prepare food on counters that also serve as chicken roosts. You will not have consistent/frequent access to soap. You will eat street food that is undoubtedly questionable. You will be dirty, dusty, and sweaty at all times. You will have mind over body battles to force yourself to bucket shower in the winter. Bugs, lizards, chickens, ducks, and mice will crap on everything. These things will be ok. You’ll adjust. The sterile environment of the States will become a distant odd memory or a constant fantasy.
Your body, though, might not adjust as quickly. You will have parasites and infections and illnesses that you had never heard of before training. You will be constantly constipated. Or go the opposite extreme. I hate to say it, but you will probably poop in your pants at least once. You will learn to vomit over a squat toilet and into a plastic bag during a bus ride. You will discuss your bodily functions openly and enthusiastically with other volunteers. No topic will be taboo.
The way you communicate will completely transform. Learning a language from scratch through immersion is a powerful experience. You will learn to have complex communications through expressions, gestures, and basic vocabulary. You will learn to bond with another human being through silence. You will answer the same basic questions over and over and over again. You may never achieve the ability to discuss ideas and concepts. You will develop a new English language which consists of pared down vocabulary and grammatical structures. You will actively think of each word before you speak. Your speech patterns will slow. You will have to define words whose meanings you had always taken for granted. You will learn to listen.
Your concept of money will entirely alter. Paying more than $1 for anything will cause you to pause and question your purchase. You will understand the value in the context of a different economic system. You will learn to barter, even on cheaper items. You will consistently feel as though you have been cheated on the price. You will be enraged by all prices upon returning to the States.
You will embrace the thrilling dichotomies of thrift versus splurge and ration versus binge. No one knows how to budget like a Peace Corps volunteer. And no one can binge like one.
You will be discontented with your work. You will wonder – and scream to the heavens – about the benefit of your presence. You will feel lost in unstructured expectations and crushed by promising ideas fallen to the side. Your expectations will fade into an unexpected reality. You will learn to celebrate small victories. You will look at mountains and see molehills. You will try to tackle the impossible. Maybe you’ll succeed. Maybe you’ll just pick yourself up and take aim at another impossibility.
You will learn to do all of this through pure self-motivation. You will be the one to drag yourself out of bed and out the door. You won’t have anyone holding your hand or pushing your forward. Just you. You will become a stronger person for yourself, by yourself.
You will be a celebrity in your community. That status comes will hardships and benefits that will ineradicably change you. You will be the exception to the societal rules. You will be the foreigner, the one set apart. You will receive privileges and have special attention/status because of your nationality. You will always have eyes on you. You will have joined as an agent of culture exchange and understanding, but you will still find yourself falling into an ‘us versus them’ mentality. Use it. Consider it. Contemplate the value we place on people because of arbitrary characteristics. You will come away from your experience more attune to your own merits, to those that are deserved and to those that are given.
Your culture of personal space, one that maybe you have always taken for granted, will be challenged. You will wonder why you need an entire room to yourself while no one else even has a bed to himself. You still won’t want to give your room up. Privacy will be a privilege or a rarity, not a right.
You will lose all control of your emotions and be on an unpredictable roller coaster of extreme ups and downs. You will go from happy and confident to sullen and tearful by things as simple as ants in your candy or yet another child saying ‘Hello!’ Your highs will be high, but they will be fragile. Your lows will feel inescapable. Your family and friends in the States probably won’t understand this. Your isolation will force you to become your own support system. You will become aware of yourself in the context of solely being yourself.
Your government-issued friends will be your reprieve. The love and closeness you share with people back in the States won’t change, but it will be your fellow volunteers who understand. They will be friendships forged from necessity, and they will be deep and fervent.
You will witness a whole new way of life, and you will question your notion of necessity. You will consider your personal wealth, and people will constantly remind you of it. You will discover what your ‘needs’ are to live a productive, satisfied life. I hope you will remember that when you return to a culture of plenty.
You will be the biggest product of your Peace Corps work. You will change. And you will bring that change back with you.”
So. Well. Captured. Reminds me a lot of the words of Henry Rollins:
 i beg

Monday, May 18, 2015

Future's So Bright You Better Wear Shades

Climb the mountain not to plant your flag, but to embrace the challenge, enjoy the air and behold the view.  Climb it so you can see the world, not so the world can see you.  Go to Paris to be in Paris, not to cross it off your list and congratulate yourself for being worldly.  Exercise free will and creative, independent thought not for the satisfactions they will bring you, but for the good they will do others, the rest of the 6.8 billion–and those who will follow them.  And then you too will discover the great and curious truth of the human experience is that selflessness is the best thing you can do for yourself.  The sweetest joys of life, then, come only with the recognition that you’re not special.
                                                         Because everyone is.
Congratulations.  Good luck.  Make for yourselves, please, for your sake and for ours, extraordinary lives.

                                                                                  - David McCullough

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Do the things that scare you

This time last week I was ready to sign a lease in Charleston when my career and job was put on the line over a 30-second conversation. At the time, I didn't feel fear but rather a MAJOR relief.

I finally had a legitimate reason to join the Peace Corps in my mind.

All the reasons I was afraid to go:
Fear of being lonely
Fear of missing out on life at home
Fear of deviating from the status quo
Fear of the unknown
simply didn't matter anymore.

In 30 seconds my life changed and the person I thought I was supposed to be all my life just wasn't me anymore.
I'm excited about the unknown now. This new turn into the Peace Corps will open so many new doors for me and I'm already thinking about where I'll be as an RPCV.

Just to brainstorm a list of potential trajectories after my 27 months in the Caribbean with the Peace Corps I have come up with the following ideas:

1.) My love for teaching and literacy education is reignited and I come back to South Carolina to teach and complete USC's online MLIS degree to become a Media Specialist- After two years of teaching I can already tell that I'm burned out and at a crossroads in my career. I love my students but I'm mentally and physically exhausted. I'm hoping to a certain degree that teaching for the Peace Corps in a new environment will simplify teaching and bring me back to the core of why I became a teacher in the first place.

2.) Go back to graduate school to become a Nurse or other Health Care professional. Thanks to the bartender I met at Cawtaba in Asheville on Sunday I learned about becoming an MRI/ or Nuclear Radiation tech. This is a 2 year program. I also looked into a Paul D. Coverdell Fellows program. This offers scholarships to RPCVs and one that looks awesome is Emory University's accelerated BSN-MSN program. Or John Hopkins has one of the best nursing programs for returned volunteers. UConn has a program too!

3) Work internationally or for the US Government or The Peace Corps! Live abroad again... do the JET program?

If we play it safe all the time nothing would every happen to us.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Yo ho yo ho a pirates life for me

After months of speculation over whether or not I should take a middle school teaching position in Mount Pleasant, SC this August or serve 27 months in the Peace Corps I finally committed. For those who know me this is a huge deal, first the commitment part and I've always wanted to live in Charleston/Mt. Pleasant since the first time I ate at my first Waffle House there in 2007. However for longer than I can imagine I wanted to live abroad and serve in the Peace Corps. The new application this year made that dream more of a reality. I was able to choose where I wanted to serve and my first choice, the Eastern Caribbean, is where I was eventually placed!

From June 11-August 1, I will call Saint Lucia home for training then in Harry Potter fashion a "sorting hat" will be placed on my head and I will find out which of four islands I will call home for the next two years:

a) Grenada
b) Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
c) Saint Lucia
d) Dominica

I like being in control, probably too much, so this freaks me out a little but each island is a home run and I'm beyond lucky to have this opportunity. For so long I was treating this opportunity as a backup plan or escape route. Many told me at 27 I was too old to do something like this, that I had my chance when I graduated from undergrad at 21. My boss told me I was even too young, to wait until I retired from teaching to go. People, including myself, asked questions like what about getting married/having kids and what about your career...think about what you'll lose. On the flipside, I can't stop thinking about what I'll gain from this experience. Yes there is a big part of me that has a fear about what I might or might not miss out on (major fear-of-missing-out) from my family in Connecticut to my friends all over the globe (mainly Greenville) but I keep circling back to the possibility that maybe just maybe I'll gain so much more than I'll lose.Writer, professor, and blogger John Coyne wrote:
“Kennedy liked to talk about his vision of what these young Americans were giving and giving up, but most volunteers remember what they were given."

This quote from A Year Without Makeup sums up my feelings perfectly: "Unlike other cultures where gap years are common, in the US we are taught from an early age that we need to focus almost exclusively on our education and career. Travel is a luxury that many people simply don't have time for. I think that's bullsh*t. While your twenties are tough and emotionally exhausting, they are also pretty intense, fun and awesome- you learn so much about yourself, and travel just accelerated the process."

So there in the twilight of my twenties I decided to take my escape route, the proverbial road less traveled, and I can't wait to see where it takes me!