“The first 3 months of service are some of the hardest.” I heard that countless times during Pre-Service Training and, of course, naively thought it wouldn’t apply to me because my site seemed perfect during site visit. I had a nice room, internet, a great host family, and counterparts that were ready and eager to work with me. On top of that, the thought of not having the long, exasperating days that came along with PST was awfully
alluring. The problem is that’s all apart of the honeymoon – and soon everything that was shiny and new about my site was kind of dull and mundane.
All the Peruvian quirks that my host family had that initially I thought funny started to really bother me. Work – work was basically non-existent because the schools were out of session and summer school hadn’t started yet. When summer school did start, after 2 sessions my classes got cancelled and so I was back to square one. It was rough to say the least and it turned into me being in a bad mood for about 2 1/2 months – I complained, compared, resented, and isolated myself from my host family and others. I was doing all of these things and hadn’t realized I was until one day, I noticed that slowly the fog of negativity started to clear up and I felt the shift in my mood. Things I once found intolerable were tolerable, where once there was no work suddenly I had things to do everyday and slowly but surely I got back to a good place.
For transparency’s sake, I’m lettin ya’ll know that originally I had written something else about the first few months of service but I scrapped that in light of Prince’s untimely death. Instead, I want ya’ll sit back and let the genius and wisdom that is Prince guide you through being a new Peace Corps volunteer.
“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life.”
Yes, like other stages in life, there are times in Peace Corps when you feel like you just need to “get through.” That’s certainly how I felt about my first few months because one of the super unsexy things about being a new volunteer is that all the stress relief methods you had back in the States or in training are just straight up gone and accepting that you’re in it for the long haul is pretty hard. On top of not having your normal form of stress relief, you have new stresses. Back at home, my main form of stress relief was living alone. Nothing was more soothing than knowing I was coming home to my boyfriend named Solitude. And here, things like generally not feeling like I fit in, language barriers, street harassment, and living with a family who’s idea of personal space and appropriate noise level that is completely different from mine was something I never had to deal with day in and day out. I had to scramble to find new ways to “get through.” So for me, I threw myself into reading. Now, I’ve always been an avid reader but I had always read for leisure never to relieve stress. I found that reading is the perfect way to mentally escape and immerse yourself in some far off fictitious world for an hour or two. Even if it was only temporary, it gave me a nice little break from negativity.
“As human beings we suffer from an innate tendency to jump to conclusions; to judge people too quickly…”
Boy, am I guilty of being quick to write someone off as someone I would never be friends with. I’m not the hugest fan of the “getting to know someone” process and so I tend to make quick judgments about whether or not I would want to be friends with someone. And after getting over that feeling and spending eleven weeks of making new friends in training, guess what? It was time for me to do it all over again because my closest PST friend was 3 hours away from me (on a good day when no landslides are blocking the road). And initially that sounded so unappealing – but you know what this introvert learned? I learned that when you’re in such a vulnerable position and prone to feelings of isolation, you need that extra support from other volunteers. Something as simple as having a conversation in English with my site mate (who I probably would have never been cool with in the States) would drastically change my mood for the better. So if you’re like me and usually like to keep to yourself or close group of friends, if you ever find yourself in the Peace Corps remember that opening yourself up to someone else’s company can be really helpful.
“Sometimes it takes years for a person to become an overnight success.”
I think the feeling that you’re doing absolutely zero is what sends a lot of volunteers down the black hole of negativity and I definitely allowed that to happen to me. During training sometimes you have these grandiose dreams of getting to site and starting work right away and for the most part that’s simply not true. Building trust with counterparts or putting together a steady work schedule is a process as slow as dial up internet. Like Prince said, it takes time (and I’m sure he also meant persistent effort) to be successful and PCVs aren’t exempt from that. To combat feelings of uselessness, I had to actively pursue things that made me feel purposeful. The thing that made me feel most purposeful was this blog. Seriously, ya’ll don’t even know how this blog has saved my sanity in terms making feeling like I was still doing meaningful volunteer work. Through this blog, I knew that I actively working on PC’s Goal 3: To promote a better understand of other peoples on part of Americans. Simply put that just means sharing the culture of your host country with people back home in the States. Check out this PC post about how blogging can be extremely valuable work during your service.
“Everyone has their own experience. That’s why we are here, to go through our experience, to learn, to go down those paths and eventually you may have gone down so many paths and learned so much that you don’t have to come back again.”
This experience called Peace Corps is not always full of rainbows made of skittles and Lisa Frank unicorns – its tough. And before getting to site, I remember one of our PCMOs saying, “this is like an arranged marriage.” And by that she meant that you have to learn to grow in love, respect, and appreciation for your community. I think its the same when thinking about the entire volunteer experience. Peace Corps isn’t always one big exciting adventure where you’re always exploring new parts of your host country or you’re always taking part in some cool cultural activities. Some days can be just so boring and draining and some weeks can be extremely difficult mentally or emotionally or both. But in the end you learn to appreciate the experience as a whole and you begin to see the value in the highest of highs and the lowest of lows in your service.
And if you ever get too bogged down with all the not so great feels that come along with being a new volunteer, remember Prince said:
“Every day I feel is a blessing from God. And I consider it a new beginning. Yeah, everything is beautiful.”
Rest in Purple