I am at a milestone moment in my Peace Corps service. Today marks 365 days in country; 365 days that have changed my views of America, the world, and myself. I feel as though I have done a disservice to you by not speaking more frankly of my experience here in the Philippine Islands as I may tend to exaggerate in an attempt to make sense of things I cannot make sense of.
I am writing mainly for future volunteers that will perhaps stumble upon this, I think it is important for them to realize that Peace Corps is not entirely this romantic experience that it often seems to be. Its work, and its hard. I would like to portray a more realistic, non-romanticized view of Peace Corps service that I believe is fairly universal to most posts worldwide.
Peace Crops is defined by a rather opposing combination of freedom and restraint. Every day I decide what I want to do. I can do anything. I can do nothing. While the possibilities are only limited by my imagination, the ability to do as I please is convoluted by various cultural, political, and social practices. People will literally watch your every move and its up to you to make sure that what you want to convey is being portrayed in a cultural sensitive manner. It can be tricky at first, but you will get the hang of it following some embarrassing moments.
The best advice that I received before I joined Peace Corps was to expect nothing. I can truly tell you that if you adhere to that advice, you will be wonderfully surprised. Its not news that no two Peace Corps experiences are alike. There are some volunteers here in the Philippines who live in huts on the beach with no running water and infrequent electricity, while I live in a ‘modern’ apartment with a shower, TV, refrigerator, and WIFI. My sitemate lives 7 blocs from me and our experiences are vastly different.
Peace Corps is truly an emotional undertaking. Your feelings will change quickly and often. At times, especially at the beginning of service, you will feel multiple contrasting emotions all at once; push through it, everything will be fine. You will experience your lowest of lows, and highest of highs. The lows can last months on end and make you want to go home, while the highs will overpower your previous views of the world, American, and yourself.
You will foster a peculiar sense of calm and patience. You will find disconcerting ways to pass the time; I have literally watched paint dry and was completely content. The weather will have more influence on your mood than usual. The summer is too hot to do anything except to sit next to the fan, and the rains last so long you become almost mechanized to watch movie after movie.
You will have more than ample time to think. Think every thought someone can have, perhaps even twice. Time is different here. It is remarkably fast, and painstakingly slow, methodical, and cyclical. You will count the days since you have arrived. Count down the days until you leave.
Side note: Transportation completely sucks.
Local food becomes a thing of love or loathing. American food will be a distant memory. You will experience a deeper connection with your food, how it was grown and where it came from. So much so that you will probably start growing your own food. Not out of repulse, but of an authentic appreciation and intrigue of what a little patch of dirt can provide.
You will never feel clean. There will always be a thin layer of sweat, dirt, and grime on your skin no matter how much you scrub. Every once and a while you experience the luxury of a hot shower. Only then will you feel clean, until you step outside. The humidity will leave everything covered in mold. You will never be dry, but always some sort of damp.
Kids are also a way that will instantly brighten or darken your day. Walking to work they will follow you, yell your name and wave. You will get to know them well. It will make you feel cherished, like you have a genuine friendship. On the way home, they follow you asking for money and you begin to question the authenticity of that friendship.
Cultural beliefs will leave you bewildered, and many times frustrated. You will quickly learn that you are not here to change these beliefs. You are in their county. You play by their rules.
Above everything else, you will learn about yourself. Question yourself. Improve yourself. Understand yourself. Compare where you came from to where you are now. America will be both a feeling of adoration and repulsion. You will feel guilty and privileged and your priorities will quickly change.
With all that said, one thing is certain. Peace Corps completely sucks and totally kicks ass.
Just for Fun: A comical and visual representation of Peace Corps life.