This post was written on October 13th.
It’s half past seven on a hot Tuesday evening. I’m laying in bed in a wet t-shirt, drinking ice water, and listening to the occasional Christmas song as my phone shuffles through my music. I’ve just finished packing all of my possessions in preparation to move to my site on Thursday. Today was our last day of training and tomorrow we swear in as official Peace Corps volunteers. We did it, we made it through training. Now we get thrown into the ocean to see if we’ve learned how to swim from the countless lectures we’ve gotten on how to doggy paddle. I think this is a perfect time to think about why I joined the Peace Corps, but first, let’s talk about what didn’t contribute to the decision.
I’m constantly asked why I joined the Peace Corps, even from other volunteers. I have yet to really figure out my answer, but I can tell you what didn’t lead me here and maybe a little of what did.
- I did not join because I thought that I was going to be an invaluable help to a whole community. Yes, I do think I can help with some things, but not really any more than a local could. The only difference between me and a local is that I was raised in a different culture. Just because my culture does some things differently and perhaps better (although absolutely not in every case), does not mean that my presence is going to change that much here. The main point is that I am not so full of myself that I can say I am really going to be able to help that much. I can try and I want to, but I am by no means an expert or that special. I have a lot to offer, but so does the next person. All I can hope is that my presence touches some people in a way that makes them empowered to help themselves and their community.
- I didn’t think that Peace Corps was a great way to get sent to another country and just drink and travel all the time on the governments dime. Some people do, it’s not as uncommon as you’d think. There are volunteers who barely show up to work, play the system to get out of things, and just spend two years breaking rules and being a bad image for who Americans are. These volunteers are not only wasting Peace Corps training hours and money, they’re also making it harder for future volunteers in their village.
- I didn’t join because I thought America was the best place on earth and I wanted to make sure other countries knew how awesome we are. In fact, I was really unhappy with a lot of what happens in America. I was tired of the ways we did things and hoping to learn more about ways to improve America. Surprisingly, in the short two months I’ve been here, I’ve started to realize that America is not as bad as I thought it was in many regards. We have a long way to go, but not quite as long as I thought.
- It wasn’t my intention to use Peace Corps to boost up my resume. My resume is already pretty impressive for a 21 year old and I honestly heard before I left that Peace Corps can hurt your resume. I don’t know how you can make this choice to sacrifice your American life for two years just to build up a resume. We don’t get paid enough for that.
- Lastly, I know I didn’t join the Peace Corps because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life. I’ve known since I was 16 the basic idea for my career and it hasn’t changed that much. I thought my plans would stay pretty solid throughout my Peace Corps service, but was open to them changing if that’s where Peace Corps took me. And maybe they have, I’m starting to think of international work focusing on reducing the stigma associated with mental health now. But I didn’t join the Peace Corps because I felt lost.
The following are some possible contributing reasons for this choice:
- I want to grow as a person. I want to become healthier mentally and physically. I want to learn things I don’t know. I want to experience things I can’t experience in America. And most of all, I want to learn how to be a better person and how to control my insecurities and issues that haunt me from my past. I wanted to get away from my norms, and the controlling grip, expectations, and pressures of people in my life and American society as a whole, to help me accomplish these goals on my own.
- I wanted to learn about another culture and in the process, learn more about my own. America really is the melting pot and different parts of America have really different values and ideals. I’m learning about Botswana culture, but I’m also learning from my fellow trainees (nearly all volunteers) about other parts of America.
- I wanted to expand my experience by working with other cultures on issues such as mental health and education. As America has so many different cultures and populations, I think it’s extremely important to be open to these other cultures and be culturally sensitive when working with hot button issues like culture.
- I wanted to get away from America so that I could see what I take for granted and learn how to live more simply. We are so inundated with these contraptions, technologies, and material things in America. I wanted to know what it was like to live without those things.
- I wanted to take a break from school that was meaningful and productive. I didn’t want to just work a meaningless job that didn’t give me any fulfillment. I wanted to do something that was important and made some sort of impact. Even if it is small.
So really, I’m selfish in many ways. I didn’t make this choice with no benefit to myself. I came here to learn from the experience and hopefully someone else can learn from me. I’m not brave, I don’t think it’s brave to leave my privileged home to learn how to live less spoiled. The only difference between me and the locals in that sense is that I have been exposed to privilege where they’ve never had the opportunity. I just can’t imagine living in a world and not knowing how others who are less privileged live. How selfish would that make me? We live in a bubble. The only place that matters is the space around us, but there are people suffering all over the world. Botswana is not the poorest, or least privileged country, but they definitely have their challenges. And yet the Batswana are so happy, friendly, and welcoming. You may come over when they’re eating their last piece of bread, but they will break that bread in half to share it with you. We take for granted all the spoils and material things in America, but why do we really need all that stuff? Does it make our lives more meaningful to live lavish life styles when other humans are suffering? We don’t just live in America (I definitely don’t live in America right now), we live on Earth, together. One world, one species and that’s what matters. Our sex, gender, sexual orientation, race, socioeconomic status, religion, physical and mental ability, location, etc… none of that matters. All that matters is that we work together to make the world a better place for everyone. That’s really why I joined the Peace Corps.