The Hardest Part about Peace Corps

My brain. I’ve never felt such a challenge on my mental health in my life. There are ups and downs throughout service. That’s a given. What wasn’t a given for me is the physical energy I need to use to keep myself ‘up.’ I come home every day and I am perfectly exhausted. Every day. I’m no wuss to a busy schedule, from basketball/academic schedules waking me up at 5am and keeping me studying until I heard the first birds chirping to holding two jobs before Peace Corps working 10,11, 12 hour days, I know how to push myself to the brink.

I did a post called “Five Things Keeping Me Sane” and I had no idea how much I was relying on those things. It took a new personal low, something that had nothing to do with Peace Corps, that made me reach out to my best friend here for a call that took 3 hours and several emails to work out. We worked through some topics that really lifted a weight off of my shoulders. The one that means the most to me right now though is the one that has me playing 52 card pick up with my brain.

What is not the hardest part…

1. I can tell you right now, the whole ‘give up everything (material possessions etc) and live like hobo drifting through life’ is not Peace Corps reality. If you have dreams of travel and adventure, that is not life in the Peace Corps. Yes, I’m living in a phenomenal country that I love and is a total mystery to me. I can easily and cheaply travel to many South East Asian sites of interest. But if that’s the reason you want to join Peace Corps, you might as well throw in the towel and buy yourself a backpack and take off on your own. I’ve never felt so tied down in my life. I’m supposed to spend as much time as possible in my village for the next two years. Not being a traveling gypsy is tough, but not the worst.

2. Doing the good work. Yeah it’s rough motivating my coteachers into our project work. My students hate to work things out or you know, think for themselves. The stories that I hear from other volunteers and experience myself would make you shut your eyes, shake your head, and flat-out laugh out laugh sometimes. It’s nearly impossible to do things like we’re supposed to. Use mostly English in the classroom, but that would require classes to actually be held. Make student centered lesson plans with our coteachers ahead of time…hahahaha. I’m lucky if my coteacher knows what we’re doing in class that day ten minutes before class starts. The compliments I get from people (Thais and Americans alike) about volunteering are often much more than I feel that I deserve. I derive a lot of joy from the relationships I’m building and the work that is being done even if it does drive me up the wall sometimes. If anything ever gets me too down, I look to the smiling faces of my students and somehow all the craziness becomes worth it. Another not worst.

3. I like things in threes, let’s do that. I’m missing a lot of stuff from home. A family wedding last weekend and there at least two more that I’m likely going to be noticeably absent from. I miss hearing my grandmother laugh over pancakes and stories about the Great Depression and World War II. Making brownies with my Mom and dropping ice cream on them still warm. Hot water. Cheese. Not living under a mosquito net. Not living outside. English. Dear sweet English. Not getting stared at…all the time. Seasons. Understanding what’s going on. Things happening like they’re supposed to or in ways that were previously discussed. The list goes on and on. Is it enough for me to take a ticket out of here yet? Hell no.

What’s causing the Bangers and Mash?
Otherness and/or adapting to it. Living in this country with locals instead of other foreigners, villagers instead of urbanites, I literally have to change many parts of my very being. Things that I want to develop, like asserting myself in situations I find wrong or have a problem with, have to be thrown out of the window. Core concepts that I’ve believed in my whole life, like equality among all, gone. Sure you could try to stay the same, stick to your guns about what you find suitable and what your life ‘should’ be like in the Peace Corps. I would laugh at you. Not in a mean way or anything. But in an ‘oh give it up’ sort of way. The longer you hold out, the more you stick yourself out to your community members as that crazy, tall white girl.

I’ve learned to come to terms with a lot of this though. I am my community’s crazy, tall white girl! Their mascot of sorts and proud to be it. I thought I needed to become more assertive, instead I learn how to give more of myself to people. Instead of developing myself from my own interests, I understand more about the concept about one love and working towards fulfilling the needs of everyone rather than just myself. It’s not what I expected or what I thought I needed, but it’s proving to be more worthwhile than I’ve ever imagined. I feel myself changing, setting new goals and holding new ideals. I like who I am and who I am becoming, but it doesn’t make the growing pains any easier. It just might be, the hardest part about Peace Corps.


One thought on “The Hardest Part about Peace Corps

  1. Pingback: As a Female Farang in Thailand « Erin Flew the Coop

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