Tag Archives: Future

Do As I Say, Not As I Do

I see students almost everyday for guidance and one of the biggest concerns they come to me with is anxiety and/or depression because of the pressure they’re under. A lot of that pressure comes from parents, teachers, and peers, but so much more comes from themselves. Now this is a topic I know a lot about. I have anxiety and depression. I am constantly second guessing myself. I rarely feel like I’m good enough or successful enough. I’m constantly comparing myself to others and trying to prove something. I don’t know who I’m trying to prove my worth to anymore, I just know that someone out there still needs to see that I’m good enough. Why?

I’m always telling my students that they are amazing just the way they are and they shouldn’t focus on getting the perfect score or having everyone like them, but instead focus on doing the best they can do. Then they can’t feel disappointed in themselves because they put in every effort. I tell them that the world would suck if we were all the same, so they should rejoice in their own personal strengths and uniqueness. I say all of this, and I mean it, but I can’t seem to give myself that same advice.

I tell them it’s ok to not get 48 points (the equivalent of a 4.0), but I’m obsessed with whether my 3.93 will get elevated with these last credits associated with my internship. I tell them not to stress about being as good as their peers at something, but I’m always comparing my PC service to my friends or trying to study everything under the sun because someone knows more about something than me. I tell them to not focus too much on the end result, but to focus on the now and the journey, but my head is always 5 or 10 steps ahead. I tell them to rejoice in their individuality and uniqueness, but I have been trying for as long as I can remember to fit my life and body into a mold of what women should look and act like. I tell them to love and treat themselves well because they’re the only people they have to be with every second of everyday, but I so constantly beat myself up for not being perfect.

This is not just me. This is human nature and how we’re conditioned societally. There is this ideal of the perfect human and we’re constantly comparing ourselves to that and seeing the positive ways our peers are achieving that. But no one is perfect and as we see the positive in others and the negative in ourselves, other people are seeing the positive in us and the negatives in themselves.

I’ve been told a lot lately that I’m really inspiring, which of course I appreciate, but it always surprises me. I don’t feel that inspiring because I’m constantly putting myself down and saying I’m not doing enough and if only people saw me on the days where I make a peach crisp, eat it as my primary meal for the whole day, and watch over 12 hours of glee, they’d realize that I’m just like everyone else. That example, by the way, is essentially how I spent my day today. But the point is that I am inspiring in many ways, just like everyone else around me is. We’ve all had to overcome something and we’ve all succeeded at something. I don’t think I’ve met a single person who I can say hasn’t inspired me in one way or another.

But I also could be a better example for the people who look up to me. How can I tell my kids not to stress about their grades when I cried the first time I got a B on a test because I thought it was the end of the world?; when I am still so obsessed with my grades that I’m nervous to go back to school? How can I tell them to not compare their achievements with their peers, when I see a project another PCV is doing and think that I’m a terrible volunteer and I’m not working hard enough? Or when I call myself stupid and ignorant when someone brings up a topic that I’ve never heard of? How can I tell them to not focus so hard on the end result when my head is already on applying for Ph.D.’s and what my life will look like in America in 8 months? How can I tell them to rejoice in their uniqueness and individuality when I have based my self-worth on being thin and looking like the girls around me? How can I tell them to love themselves and treat themselves well when I am constantly bringing myself down for being fat, unlovable, stupid, lazy, etc.?

I’m great at giving the advice and seeing the good in those around me, but I’m not so good at doing the same for myself. I sometimes come off as cocky and arrogant because I’m trying to hide my deeply ingrained insecurities, but who is that helping. That’s not giving an example of authenticity. I’m tired of trying to be someone I’m not. I’m tired of putting all this pressure on myself. I’m tired of trying to make myself smaller for the world. So I’m going to start taking my own advice. I’m going to give myself credit when credit is due and I’m going to put in the most effort I can in every area of my life (while listening to my body and mind) so that I have no reason to feel guilty or bad about myself. But I’m also going to let myself have days to eat an entire peach crisp and watch 12 hours of glee. I’m going to stop thinking about my size compared to others, that number on the scale, or the size on a tag. The size of my body doesn’t define my worth or even my health. And if someone tries to judge me for the little piece of my life that they see, that’s a reflection of them, not me. They don’t know my life, my story, or really me if they think they can or should judge me negatively. Just like most of the humans I know, I’m a pretty awesome person. Hopefully I can start teaching my kids through example instead of just talk. We all deserve to feel good about ourselves and live happy lives. It’s unfortunate that it’s often one of the most challenging things to do.

Joiwyn 2.0

The other day, I was standing in Bethany’s living room putting moisturizer on my face at 1:30 in the morning. Bethany was just sitting there staring at me for like ten minutes while I did my evening routine and finally she just blurts out “Do you ever think you’re a completely different person than you were two years ago?” Of course, as the crazy detail oriented person I am, I replied “You haven’t even known me two years.” I got the point though. I clarified that she was talking directly about me and not using a universal you to apply to all PCVs or something. But when she told me she meant me specifically, it sent me into a bit of a tail spin. And my answer is, yeah, I guess I am a very different person.

Of course, I don’t think I’ve lost my core values or anything. I don’t look like a completely different person. I still have many of the same mannerisms and ideals, but overall, more has changed than stayed the same.

At first that scared me. I thought I was losing parts of myself, but then I embraced the change and realized that I was just letting myself actually be myself. I was dropping my defense mechanisms, fears, and insecurities and realizing my potential. I’ll never be done learning, growing, changing, or evolving, but I’ve made an exponential amount of progress from that Joiwyn that moved to Botswana 17 long months ago.

I think I can attribute a lot of this to a big growth spurt in my prefrontal cortex, but I also can attribute a ton of it to my hard work and effort. I came here with a huge focus on wanting to change and learn about myself and I’m so glad I’ve done that.

I turn 23 in an hour and a half (yeah, I still have no chill about my birthday) and as usual, my birthday makes me think of all I want to accomplish this year. But there is something that’s different, I’m not anxious or stressed about these goals. I’m not worried about them not happening or something massive getting in the way, because I’ve learned that it doesn’t really matter. I shoot for the moon and land in the stars (Is that accurate? Isn’t the moon closer than the stars? This makes me feel a little stupid, but hey, I don’t know everything). If I only accomplish half my goals, I’ll still accomplish a whole hell of a lot. And I’ve learned that I can’t control everything.

This year was filled with things out of my control. I couldn’t control having to move to a new village. I couldn’t control my weight loss plateau. I couldn’t control my work situation. I couldn’t control my gallstones. I couldn’t control my depression that came with that isolation. I couldn’t control the things that happened back home that made me wish I was there. But I learned that when I release that need to control, I also release so much of my anxiety and stress. Life happens TO us a lot of the time and yes, we play a part in that, but in the end, we don’t control it.

On the other hand, I learned that there’s a lot I can control when I’m not a giant ball of anxiety and stress trying to juggle more than I should have ever tried to juggle. I learned to stop focusing on the reasons and excuses I had made in the past and to start focusing on the now and the how. I made so many healthy changes this year that I thought were impossible for me to figure out in the past. I learned to enjoy the things I couldn’t change and make the most out of experiences. I learned that my challenges don’t make me that much more interesting than my triumphs. I still need to work through them, but I don’t need to devote so much energy to them. I’ve learned that I can handle so much and that I should give myself a lot more credit, respect, and trust. I learned that even though I can handle a giant plate full of things, it’s OK to not fill that plate full and it’s OK to take downtime or time for myself. I learned that I will never be perfect, and no one is. I learned that fear can be helpful, but also harmful. And I learned that I really like who I am and I love who I’m becoming.

I’ve changed the way I think about myself, the way I treat myself, the way I think about others, my career plans, my attitude, and view of the world around me. I’m still recognizable, don’t worry. But I’m not as likely to take people’s shit. I’m not as focused on what other people think of me. I no longer feel like everyone’s feelings or opinions are more important than my own. I’m not willing to suppress my feelings anymore. I’m not willing to keep a wall around myself for protection anymore. I’m not willing to focus all my thoughts on the negatives and the things getting in the way. I still love to plan and think about the future, but now I recognize the importance of the present as well. I’m no longer tired and anxious all the time. I’m no longer worried about letting people in. I’m not as scared that I’m going to have a debilitating mental illness. I recognize that I’m enough in most cases, more than enough in many, and a little too much in a few. I’m not going to try to take up less space anymore or remain neutral to make everyone around me happy. I’m more comfortable in my own skin, less focused on the number on the scale, and more focused on being healthy and respectful toward my body. And Bethany says that I used to have a resting bitch face, but now I seem much more open and happy.

One of my biggest fears is that I will lose all this progress and growth when I get back to the states, but I’m learning that that would take a lot of work. I don’t think I can ever go back to the old Joiwyn; too much has changed in too many good ways. I love myself in a way that I was never able to find before from myself or others. I respect myself in a way that I’ve never felt before. I am learning to trust myself (that one is hard for me from years of gaslighting, but I’m getting there). I’m learning to stand up for myself and say no, in the big situations and small. I’m learning that I can be a good person, a thoughtful and kind friend, and a dedicated worker without treating myself poorly. I’ve learned that often times what I think others are thinking about me is my insecurities projecting on them and no where near their actual thoughts. Most of all, I’ve learned to be proud of myself. I’m proud of all that I’ve accomplished and all that I know I will accomplish. And I’ve learned that my pride and acknowledgement is the only one I really need. I’m tired of trying to prove myself to others. If they can’t see the great things about me, that’s their loss.

In the past, I would have joked about how arrogant I sound in this post. But now I recognize this as confidence and self-love. I hope we all can find that, because life is way too hard when you don’t like yourself. Trust me, I spent the first 21.5 years of my life there. It’s a pretty short time period compared to some others, and I know that I still have a long way to go and am still extremely young, but it’s never too early or late to recognize who you really are. I’m excited to see all the ways I learn, change, grow, evolve etc in this next chapter of my life. Here’s to a great year as a 23 year old.

Love Can Conquer All

I found out about the Orlando shooting around 5pm my time yesterday. As soon as I found out, I was horrified. My stomach knotted up, I felt nauseous and I was filled with anger. I don’t get truly angry often and very rarely to the point of nausea and crying, but I was outraged. How could someone enter a place of joy, community, and acceptance and butcher over 50 people leaving another over 50 harmed? How is it even possible for one man to do that? I was so angry and hurt and I didn’t know what to do with that anger. I called my mom because I just didn’t know what to do with myself. I couldn’t stop the tears and I couldn’t relinquish the anger. We talked for about an hour. We talked about how that could have happened anywhere and it could still happen anywhere. We talked about how I could be in a gay bar one day and another shooting could happen. We talked about my decision to finally come out to Facebook as pansexual (instead of just the five people who read this blog). She congratulated me and concurred that now, more than ever, is a time to stand proud for who I am. Most importantly, we talked about anger, hate, and discrimination. I told her that more than anything else, I wish I was in America right now to stand proud with my LGBTQ+ community and rally and fight for our rights and lives. But in the end, it’s not about fighting, it’s about loving. Finally, my anger started to ebb.

A man who can mentally make the decision to walk into a bar with semi-automatic weapons with the intent to kill people who’s lifestyles were not the same as his, obviously has something going on in his brain that I can’t understand. Maybe he had a past trauma that has affected him, maybe he was born with some gene for bigotry, or maybe he had an influence pushing these ignorant beliefs at him until he succumbed to them. I will never know, but what I do know is that I would never want to live a life with that much hate in my heart. For that reason, I feel sorry for him. I wish his life had been filled with joy and love for all of humanity, because, I can assure you, it’s a much easier and lovelier existence. I, in no way, am condoning what he did. He committed a horrible, outrageous act of hate, but for me to turn that hate around on him, would only hurt me, not him. So instead, I am going to extend love to him and his family, and everyone who was affected by this tragedy, because that is the only way this kind of change can come.

This was a horrible act of violence toward the LGBTQ+ community, but it was more than that. It was an act of violence towards humanity. People do not choose their sexual orientation. I did not wake up one day and say, “Oh, I think I’d really love to be pansexual and feel the need to hide any romantic relationships I’ve had with women so that I don’t get judged by my religious and ignorant extended family and society.” Why would I choose that? And more importantly, why should it matter? My being pansexual has not affected anyone else besides the people that I have been romantically involved with. I have tons of female friends who are not worried about me pushing unwanted sexual advances on them, because not being heterosexual, or in other cases not being cisgender, does not make us rapists. First and foremost, we are human beings. We don’t decide what race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, sex, gender, or even religion to be. I think that we are born into this world with our brain thinking one thing, and maybe our body doesn’t match that. We can choose some things, like to change our gender or religion, but those choices are what we really are in our brains not something that we just decide on a whim. We find the things in life that fit us best. I didn’t grow up thinking I was pansexual, but through years of exploring who I am, I discovered a term that fit me better than anything else. Because that is what these things are, they’re labels. We label ourselves and are labeled by others to fit into categories. But first and foremost, we’re human beings. We all have that in common and we are all just trying to live the best lives we can live. So why is there so much hatred? Why do these labels matter?

Trump is stirring up this hatred toward “the other”. What is “the other”? If we’re fighting against everything that makes us different, we’re fighting against everyone. No one has the exact same opinions, thoughts, feelings, history, etc… as you. We should be embracing our differences and learning from each other instead of trying to make everyone conform to one set of ideals. I can understand wanting to be like other people. I can understand envying someones body type, or their social class, but I would never want to be straight just to fit into someones outdated beliefs. I would never want to be a man, just so that I wouldn’t have to face the misogyny and sexism that I do. I would never want to have been raised in an affluent family, just so that I could have never struggled with money. I wouldn’t even want someone else’s body type at this point. I love who I am and I love the things that make me different from others. Life would be so boring if we all had the exact same skin tone, eye color, sexual orientation, job, religion, etc… Why is that a world people want to live in? Unfortunately, with the way America is going, wanting to be who you are can also lead to fear. Fear that someone is going to bring a semi-automatic to a concert, church, night club, school, movie theater, really any place with a large amount of people being who they are. We are being taught to fear who we are or others who don’t fit a mold, and that isn’t OK.

The United States of America is based off of immigration. We should be celebrating that we are the country of freedom that people want to, or wanted to as the case may be at this point, live in. We are supposed to be a United People with individual rights, responsibilities, and freedoms. Now I know that the right to bear arms is one of those rights we were founded on, but when someone has the ability to extinguish 50 people’s right to live, that’s no longer promoting freedom. Our country has gone from one of freedom and liberty, to one of fear and hatred. We fear and hate what we do not know. This goes both ways. People who are being oppressed and attacked fear and hate their perpetrators and people who are oppressing and attacking, fear and hate their victims. How do we stop fear and hate? By educating ourselves and others. By getting to know people who possess a trait that you don’t understand. By listening to our children, siblings, friends, neighbors, and communities speak about the love they possess for another human being instead of listening to hate speech or choosing passages from an outdated and very subjective book that fit the hate you want to spread. We should all be embracing our whole identities, but more than that, we should be embracing our humanity.

I know that bigotry, ignorance, and hate are not that easy to extinguish. Definitely not as easy as the 50 lives that were taken yesterday, but we have to try. We have to try to spread the love that we have and show that “the other” is not something to fear, but instead something to learn from and get to know. We can’t accomplish this through hate or fear; you can’t eliminate a flood with more water. We have to fight hate with love. I love all human beings, but I would love them even more if they took the time to educate themselves and those around them. Love can win.

Something else that we can do that may have more immediate effects, is to work on policy change. We need to make gun safety our biggest priority. We are only half way through the year and we have had 173 shootings. 173! This is insanity to me. We are not safe anywhere with semi-automatic weapons on the streets. How is this acceptable? I don’t know a lot about politics and I don’t know a lot about policy change. Even still, I have hope and enough knowledge to know that this can change. We can be the change that we want to see in the world if enough people stand up and make it happen. I am going to educate myself on politics, policy, and everything else I can get my hands on surrounding this issue. This is not just an issue of LGBTQ+ rights; this is an issue of human rights and gun reform. I hope you decide to take action as well, even if that is just you educating yourself further and those around you. Don’t just say “praying for Orlando” and forget about it a week later. MAKE CHANGE!

What I’ve Gained So Far

Seven months ago, I wrote a blog post in a sleepy stupor of the things I felt I was losing being here. I talked about how I felt like I was losing valuable parts of my identity and I wasn’t sure at the time what I was gaining, or how to cope with that. That was very valid at the time and having only been here two months, I understand where my head was at, but I’ve been here nine months now and I feel very differently. So I wanted to write a post about the things that I feel like I have gained.

The biggest thing is knowledge of myself. I would have never known how resilient I am if it weren’t for this experience. I have had many very bad days with the death of my friend, being evicted, family drama, and other crazy experiences, but I have barely wavered in my conviction to stay here. I knew I could handle a lot, but I didn’t know the full extent of that. Not that I actually know the full extent of it now, but I definitely have a broader picture of it. This also is not saying that I handle all situations perfectly and without throwing my version of a hissy fit, but I still handle the situations in some way and that’s resilience.

I also never realized how introverted I really am. I think that introversion has acquired this negative connotation that it is equal to being asocial and a loner. I was always so busy in the states that I could equate my moods to being stressed, anxious, and overworked, but here I’ve discovered that there are just times that I need to be alone and have control of my own space. It refuels me and re-balances me. Of course, you all know that I am a very social person and that hasn’t changed. I just need to take more time for myself than I’ve ever allowed before. I always thought I would hate living alone, but I love it. Not sure how I am going to go back to co-habitating.

I’m also learning to cut myself more slack and stop being so self-critical. I’m learning to trust myself and not dwell on and over think everything. Notice that I use the present tense here. I’m still learning things. It’s not in my nature to let myself off easy.

I’m learning more about my passions and what I really want to spend my time doing. Yes, sometimes that is binge watching Veronica Mars in a week and then wallowing because I finished it and there isn’t more to watch. But sometimes it’s working on an idea for a novel, helping students who are oppressed for a part of their identity, learning to play the harmonica, challenging myself with crazy puzzle challenges, exercising, teaching myself French, or cooking awesome meals. I was always so busy in the states that I never took time to do many things that were for me; everything was about school, work, or the people around me. There are also things that I’ve realized I want to start doing with my time, but don’t have the resources for yet. I have the green light to use the schools ceramics wheel and kiln, I just have to figure out a time I can go in to do that. I am also trying to see if I can use the school sewing machines to alter my clothes and get more creative with that. I have all these clothes that are too big now and I need to find a way to keep them useful.

Budgeting has never been a strong suit of mine, but I’ve been kind of forced to get better with that since I make so little. So that’s a great skill to acquire.

I’ve also acquired a lot more confidence. A big part of that is because I have lost 65 pounds. I hate that my confidence and self-worth has been tied to that, but when you are bullied and ridiculed you’re entire life for something and then you start to find a way to get rid of that offending part of yourself, it’s a big confidence booster. I honestly can look at a picture of myself from before I got here and see that I was beautiful the way I was, but also be really glad that I’m no longer there. I could go on about my weight loss for a whole blog post, and honestly probably will in the near future, but that isn’t what this one is about.

In America, I was a total night owl and usually didn’t even get into bed until 10 or 11 pm. Here, I have to force myself to stay up. It’s 5:30 here and all I’ve wanted to do for the last hour and half was to get into bed. Honestly, as soon I am finished writing this, that’s where I’m headed. Most of the time I just lay there for four or five hours because I have intense insomnia, but hey, there’s still something nice about getting into bed before it’s even dark out.

I’ve also always been terrible about keeping a routine. Even something as simple as brushing my teeth was a challenge. I was the type to just wake up and leave, no need to spend time getting ready. I’ve always wanted to be better about routines though and luckily, I’ve been managing those very well here. My dentist will be proud. πŸ˜‰

I never thought that I would enjoy teaching. I’ve always been told that I would be a good teacher, but have revolted against that because I’ve felt like I could do many great things and teaching isn’t my passion. I fully respect teachers and have many friends who are teachers or going into teaching, but I also feel like teaching is one of the professions that women are often pushed into. Anyway, I’m not interested in teaching grade school, but I have been considering becoming a professor (not until I’m like 50 or 60 and have traveled the world and worked for amazing organizations like the U.N.). I also wasn’t sure that I would enjoy teaching since I have massive stage fright. I’ve discovered that I really do enjoy it, though. My classes are going really well and I’m happy to have this experience.

Honestly, I think I’ve gained a lot more than this, but it just got dark outside and my bed is calling my name. So that’s all I’ll say for now. Thanks for reading!

P.S. I’m super proud of the fact that this is three weeks in a row of actual blogging. I think I can keep this up πŸ™‚

New Year, Fresh Start

Well, I probably should have written a post a while ago, but a lot has been happening and it took me a while to wrap my head around everything. I’ve been in Gabs for the past two weeks while I wait for training to start. If you read my last post, you know that I’ve been evicted and was in the process of getting a new home in my village. If you follow my Facebook, you know that I have since found out the house I was to move into has fallen through and now I am in Gaborone waiting to find a new village because they couldn’t find me any other housing in Ralekgetho. Now that the situation isn’t as fresh, I think it makes a funny story, but I’ll save that for when I get home.

So, anyway, I am not only houseless, but also villageless. A lot of people at this point have asked me why I’m staying. Many people have left and a lot of people here have said they would have left if they had to go through what I’ve been handling. It’s actually been kind of challenging staying in the hotel that the people who are ET-ing (Early Terminating) are also staying at. I spent two weeks listening to people tell me why they were going home and that they were surprised I would stay after dealing with the already challenging aspects of my village and then being evicted and having to relocate and people trying to decide if they want to stay or go home. This was especially hard because I was trying to actively listen and help them while they were talking themselves into leaving, staying, and then leaving again, without feeling like leaving myself.

The truth is, I have thought a lot about ET-ing, but in the perspective that it really isn’t something I want to do. It’s just one of those things that you have to consider when you’re in these situations here. When I first got evicted, I was upset and wondering if it was my sign that I wasn’t meant to be here, but that thought went away pretty quickly. There are of course reasons why I feel like I don’t need to be here. In a lot of ways, I feel like Peace Corps doesn’t really need to be in this country. I feel like we have been here long enough and that the country is developed enough that we aren’t really needed. In a lot of ways, I feel like Peace Corps is used in this country as a status symbol and a way for the country to get more funding. Most villages here request Peace Corps volunteers because they want to have an American (and are usually disappointed if they’re black) in their village. Of course this isn’t always the case and just because they don’t need us, doesn’t mean there isn’t stuff for us to do. However, I am also always questioning why I am here and whether I am perpetuating a stereotype that white people are smarter and therefore are the only people who can solve the problems in Africa. And why did I decide that I was qualified to come and help a country with a problem that I haven’t even studied? I don’t have a public health background. What kind of expertise do I have to really help the people of Botswana, that the people of Botswana don’t already have? Why can’t they help themselves? Even with all of these questions and internal struggles I have with myself, I’m not ready to go home.

I came here for more than this idealistic image that I was going to be some sort of savior. I came here to learn about another culture, help under privileged populations, learn about my culture through others eyes, process my own knowledge and opinions of my own culture, learn more about myself, make growth and positive changes for myself that I didn’t think were possible in the toxic environments in America, and broaden my horizons. I wanted to have knowledge and experience beyond my little American bubble so that I could understand more about what people in this world are going through and how they’re culture and views affect that.

In these nearly 6 months, I have learned so much about myself, America, and Botswana. I have grown in ways I wasn’t sure were possible. I’ve accomplished goals that I have been struggling with for years. And I’ve already touched people’s lives around me. I’m not ready to go home, because I’m not ready to stop this journey. I want to see how healthy I can get living in the desert without a car and eating a diet that is nearly all unprocessed foods. I want to see how many more mental health changes I can make to eliminate even more stress, anxiety, and insecurity. I want to challenge myself in ways that aren’t possible in America. I want to read fifteen books a month and not be falling behind on other stuff. I want to learn how to really live on my own, budget for myself, cook for one person without wasting food, and finally get some routine in my life. I want to use this opportunity for everything it’s worth.

My next village may have even fewer amenities than my last or it could have way more. Hey, maybe I’ll have running water and electricity. The village could speak more English than my last village did. It could have more infrastructure than my last village. Ooh, it might have some form of transportation besides hitch hiking in pickups that look like they may just break into a million pieces in the middle of the ride. Maybe my school will have more corporal punishment, or maybe it won’t exist. Maybe there will be more than one hundred students and seven teachers. It might even be a Junior or Senior secondary instead of a primary school. We really have no idea, but it also doesn’t matter. I didn’t come here to work with one specific population on one specific issue. I came here to work in Botswana wherever they needed me. Wherever I am, there will be challenges, but another word for challenge is OPPORTUNITY!! That’s all this is. It’s just an amazing opportunity to learn, grow, and make an impact in a different place. So, no, I’m not thinking of going home. Even if I wanted to, I have no money, so I would just be couch surfing until I got a job. Why not stay in a safe, secure, and beautiful place for two years and have a little more money and experience when I come home instead?

I’ve Metamorphosed! (But I really think the word should be metamorphisized)

One minute, we’re a group of 74 trainees and the next we’re 74 volunteers! Swear in was a blast! Most of us wore our pretty new traditional dresses or shirts in the case of men (I really thought they should have worn the dresses as well, but none of them went for it.) We took tons of pictures together before the ceremony. Then we sat through long introductions and thank you speeches to the staff and host families. Next came the fun part! We all stood, raised our right hands, and said the same oath that the U.S. president and every other official government worker has to say. We also recited the first ever peace corps pledge for Botswana that our country directer and other staff prepared for us. At the end of the pledge, we were instructed to say “I am a Peace Corps Volunteer” and some of us started to tear up (I didn’t, because I’m clearly more bad-ass than that, but I did give a little squeal, a very bad-ass squeal). Then we sat through some more long and slightly boring speeches. And finally we shook hands with all the officials including the U.S. Ambassador and our country director and we finally received our official volunteer pins! We did it! We’re official volunteers! And for life! When I return, I’ll always be a returned (not retired or ex) peace corps volunteer. Here’s to volunteer life!

Joiwyn in Peace Corps Shirt

The 5 things that had nothing to do with why I joined the Peace Corps, and the 5 that maybe did

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Joiwyn in Peace Corps Shirt
Joiwyn

What am I doing with my life?

This is one of a few posts written while I could not sleep one night during my site visit a few weeks ago.

Today I took a 5 hour nap in the middle of the day, so naturally it’s 1 am and I can’t get my mind to shut down. So here are a few ramblings of the future. But first let me take you to a glimpse of the past:

I’ve known that I’ve had a passion for psychology since I really dug into college when I was 16 and since then have been exploring different paths I thought I might want to pursue with psychology. The latest of which was to go back to school when I returned from Peace Corps to get my masters and licensure and then hopefully my doctorate in social work. I’ve been thinking that I want to start my own child therapy practice with an emphasis in trauma and that plan hasn’t really changed, but tonight I lay awake for hours wondering if that was really the best plan for me and if I would really be good at that. I think a major part of why that came up for me is because I’ve been thinking hard about whether I will want to extend in the Peace Corps.

I know at this point you’re probably thinking, what the hell is wrong with this girl, doesn’t she know how to be present and let life just unfold. The truth is, no, I don’t really know how to do that. I’ve always had pride in my motivation, drive, and preparedness and that comes from always thinking about the future. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely live in the present and enjoy the experiences I have, but when my brain just has time to free flow, it goes to the future and that has helped me to accomplish everything I have in my short 21 years. So yes, I’m having this amazing experience in Africa and still thinking of the future.

So originally, before I even got accepted into the Peace Corps, I was already thinking of extending my service. All the RPCVs I had met who had had the best services had extended, you get extra money in the end, and I thought that once I came home, I would want to settle down and build a life in one spot and that wouldn’t leave time to do something like this again. What I’ve realized is that you don’t actually need two whole years to get a good appreciation of a culture (although, I’m sure I’ll learn a lot more in the time to come and all of the views of this post may change). I already have learned far more about Botswana in these 2 months than I would have imagined. So maybe settling down with a career and a house, and traveling and working abroad aren’t mutually exclusive. Once I realized that I could have more experiences like this after I’ve established my career, the need to extend fell away. I realized that I don’t need to prove anything by being away from home for more than 2 years (that’s already a hell of a long time). So maybe I don’t need to extend, but then this changed my thinking of what I would be doing when I got home.

So anyway, I had lots of doubts and questions about what I was doing with my life and after about 4 hours of hard thinking about it and consulting with the people who know me best, I decided to stop thinking about it with the realization that nothing has really changed and who knows what the future will bring. I just need to maintain my way of planning and then changing the plans with life. I’m sure I’m bound to go back to this question many times in my service and maybe it will change, or maybe the plan I’ve been hashing since I was 16 will persevere through all of life’s many changes.