Sometimes the hardest part of a Peace Corps Volunteer’s (PCV) services is attempting to explain to friends and family back home what we experience during our 27 months of service. Our triumphs are relayed by quarters and fiscal years. And yet sometimes we have to gauge success by smiles and understanding piece-meal conversations with taxi drivers on our way to the grocery store. There are highs and lows all within a matter of minutes. I believe that a lot of the difficulty that we as volunteers have while serving in Peace Corps comes from the, “I’m so proud of you” praise and, “I really envy what you are doing” comments. Why would these statements be problematic? Because there are a lot of times when we are not proud of ourselves.
Last week I attended my groups Mid Service Training (MST). This training happens for all PCV’s worldwide after being at their site for one year. I’ve now completed one year in Francistown, Botswana. MST not only serves as a marker for our service while in Peace Corps but also allows volunteers and more importantly, friends to come together and share their experiences. We highlighted our triumphs and defeats. We shared our frustrations and excitement for the year ahead. During this process we realized that so much of the past year has been plagued by fears of letting down those we love back home. This comes about because when we applied for Peace Corps service, our eyes were wide with enthusiasm and our hearts yearned for overseas experiences that would not only guide our future endeavors but hopefully satisfy a curiosity and love for helping others. Sometimes reality lands a damaging blow to the hopes that PCV’s had laid out for two years abroad.
The vast majority of our time in country is positive and rewarding on many levels. However, it’s the failures, both in our work and our hearts, which trump our mood. We don’t like complaining or seeming ungrateful. Most importantly, we don’t want to feel like we’ve let down those back home whom we have left for two years.
My time and service in Botswana has been amazing and something that I wouldn’t trade for anything else. Nevertheless, I have negative thoughts and hypercritical feelings that make me feel…not like me. Intolerance creeps in and frustration can rule the day.
When I applied to Peace Corps in the fall of 2008, I was interviewed by a recruiter who asked me what I thought the most difficult aspect of serving in Peace Corps would be. Without hesitation I replied that it would be the “readjustment to life back home post service.” The past six months have been the most rewarding and the most difficult for me. The commonality between the good and bad in Peace Corps is that I can’t explain to those that I care for most back home what is going on day-by-day. I experience so much and have undergone many changes. The only way to consolidate, expand upon and express my time in Botswana would be to capture it as a reality show.
Unless one is a PCV, it’s not possible to understand the highs and lows of what we go through here. So how do I communicate over the next eleven months? When I return to the states, how do I choose to interact with those interested in hearing about my time away? One common experience many PCV’s convey upon return home is the glossy-eyed looks that attach themselves to our fiends and family after five minutes of divulging our experiences in Peace Corps. They recount how they feel alone, trying to tell a simple but meaningful story while not feeling heard. Many volunteers travel the states to visit other PCV’s within the first month of returning home just to feel connected to someone who can understand them. Why do I write these messages now and not next May when I’m closing out my last weeks of service? Maybe it’s preparing myself, trying to find a method for coping with these experiences. Perhaps it’s a bigger issue in that by stating now that no one can possibly understand my situation, I can feel better when the inevitable happens. Or maybe this is the only way for me to come up with an excuse for being absent in my blog writing; a practice I had hoped would keep me connected instead of feeling distant.