Recently, a friend was talking to me about how she is trying to end her service positively because she doesn’t want to look back at these two years as a black hole in her life. It made me think a lot about my experiences in my service and how I view them. With only a month of service left, now is the time for reflection and reframing! To start off, I don’t view my service entirely positively or negatively. I’ve had a lot of great experiences and a ton of bad ones, but that’s life. Who’s to say my last two years would have been any better if I hadn’t done Peace Corps. I don’t regret my service at all, but it’s extremely different from what I expected it to be.
I definitely thought Peace Corps was going to be hard. I expected a lot of homesickness, communication challenges, acclimation, cultural accommodation needs, and personal struggles, but I was also a naïve twenty-one-year-old (I’m still relatively naïve, just two years older), who thought that I had been through a lot of shit already and I was somehow invincible. I remember thinking that I didn’t have a breaking point and that I would be able to weather any storm. Don’t worry, I’ve been humbled quite a bit here. I’ve gotten closer to my breaking point than I’ve ever been before, but being the badass that I am, I did weather the storm and I’m still here. In this context, badass means with a lot of support from my friends and family and weeks of crying.
The things I didn’t expect from my service were the following: feeling unwanted, undervalued, underutilized, and disrespected; having my mental struggles continuously triggered and aggravated; feeling unsupported by my host organization and PC; and having medical issue after medical issue arise.
So, these are the negatives and they have royally sucked, but if I change them, I change all the growth and evolution that I’ve gone through to become who I am today. Life isn’t meant to be easy. Peace Corps is not meant to be easy. What would you learn from a life where everything just gets handed to you and you never fail? And what constitutes failing?
I’ve struggled a lot in the last few months with a feeling that I failed my service. I felt like I didn’t do everything that I expected to do and I didn’t build the relationships that I expected to build and somehow, that means I failed. I also fight with comparing myself to others. I look at my friends and see these great friendships they have, all the camps and projects they’ve done, and the amazing take-away they have. It’s easy to look at one thing they have that I don’t and say that means I failed my service. But there are so many factors into why they could cultivate these friendships and projects. Their successes are not a reflection of my failures.
A lot of my big take-aways from my service are personal. They’re things like making a lot of mental strides toward healing old wounds and insecurities. My successes are earning my master’s degree, applying to PhD programs (almost), and getting myself to a healthier place with food and activity. But I also have successes in my service. I made relationships with hundreds of students. I taught about topics like sex vs. gender, understanding different forms of sexual orientation, diversity and cultural tolerance and advocacy, and gender based violence; topics that would not have been taught otherwise. I resurrected a club and got 50+ kids interested in it. I showed kids what it’s like to be a strong, independent woman with no current interest in marriage or kids. I showed men every day that treating women like objects doesn’t always give you favorable attention. And I acted as a resource to Peace Corps and my host organization for diversity understanding and inclusion.
I would never be able to say that I wasted two years because I didn’t. I learned so much about myself and others. I learned more about diverse cultures and about my own. I taught others and myself how to be strong and independent. I changed my career paths (a few times) and started to recognize my true passions. My two years in Peace Corps were two of the hardest years of my life and I am absolutely ready to be done with my service, but I will always cherish this time as one of the biggest learning opportunities of my life. I’ve made a lot of progress on learning who I really am and how to love myself, and I think that is one of the hardest and most important lessons in life. So, no, I don’t just have a black hole where the last two years of where my life should be. I have a huge eclectic roller coaster of extremely high highs and terrifyingly low lows with a couple months of neutral territory thrown in. It’s not a roller coaster that I’m going to jump off and get back in line for, but it’s one that I will remember for the rest of my life.