Normally when people find out I was a Peace Corps Volunteer, they have three questions.
- Where were you?
- How long were you there?
- How was it?
The answers to one and two are easy.
I was in Colombia.
Just over two years.
But when question three comes around, I tend to start my answer by staring at them blankly for a few seconds. How do you sum up twenty-six months of your life spent living in a country that’s not yours in a house that’s not yours with a family that’s not yours? Especially when they now feel like they are yours?
I usually say as much as I can in as few words as possible. “It was…hot. No, it was a great experience. I hated the job – I’m not a teacher and there were just too many challenges, so I never felt impactful – but I loved the country. It’s so beautiful. And the people are wonderful and welcoming and just love to party.”
But that explanation doesn’t help them understand my experience. It doesn’t convey the complexity of emotions I experienced constantly.
I hated the job. I dreaded going to school. So often I would find that there wasn’t class. The lesson I’d planned wouldn’t be used. Or there was class but my counterpart veered off-course from our agreed-upon plan and the students were loud and behaved like animals.
I worried that I was wasting my life away. I spent at least five months wondering every day, “what am I doing here?” Then I spent another six months counting down the days and knowing the only thing keeping me there was the promise of visitors towards the end of my service.
I loved my host family. They are beautiful, wonderful, well-intentioned people. But they also caused me constant stress for a myriad of reasons.
I loved my friends. They are funny, adventurous, and ambitious. But I never had a friend whose house I could just stop by when I felt lonely. Every rendezvous took extreme effort.
The heat was oppressive. I miss it.
The bugs and mice were disgusting and prolific. Good riddance.
So how can I better sum up this time of my life?
It transformed me. It showed me how generosity and grace can look. It taught me how to feel comfortable in my own skin, even when my skin didn’t fit in. It forced me to be resilient, to deal with stress, and to endure isolation.
It was incredible. And I’m glad it’s over.
I wrote the above in preparation to meet with a writing coach for work. It’s the first writing I’ve done about Peace Corps since returning, and it felt good. The future of this blog is unclear. I’m continuing to host it so that future volunteers and prospective volunteers have it as a resource, but I also don’t want to just leave it static always.
Is there any content you’d like to see? Any questions you have about my experience?