Change Yourself…Change The World.

What Being A Peace Corps Volunteer Is REALLY Like
October 3, 2011, 10:02 pm
Filed under: Paraguay

Sometimes, while walking around and doing my daily routine, I catch myself and think ‘Wait a second. I’m a Peace Corps Volunteer. Remember that time when I waited 3 years to become a Peace Corps Volunteer? Remember when I spent all of that time dreaming about where I would be living, what I would be doing, what my experience would be? Wondering what my site would look like? What my job would be?’

Quite frankly, I NEVER would have imagined my daily reality now as a Peace Corps Volunteer, which consists of amenities such as living in a homestay house with a hot shower, working at a cooperative with my own desk and internet, having my own cell phone with unlimited calls to other volunteers, and access to luxuries like Pringles and Mozzarella Cheese.When I used to dream about my life as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I imagined a TOTAL ‘in the bush’ experience. I envisioned myself living in a hut in Africa with no running water and little or no access to electricity. I imagined that having internet would be laughable, and a cell phone probably a mirage, let alone mozzarella cheese.

Quite frankly, this is not off the mark for what many Peace Corps Applicants expect, and I can understand the reason why. While I was chatting about this with my Peace Corps Medical Officer today, she pointed out that many people in the United States still have the romanticized view of the Peace Corps in the 60’s, when a Volunteers experience really WAS in the middle of nowhere, without infrastructure or access to basic amenities. But the truth is, while there ARE still Volunteers out there that do live this ‘in the bush’ experience, it is a giant minority compared to the way volunteers actually live today around the world. I remember my own personal shock to this- when I CouchSurfed with a Peace Corps Volunteer in Armenia and saw that he had a two bedroom apartment in a high rise, I started to comprehend that not all Peace Corps Volunteers live in a hut.

In actuality, many Volunteers still live a more rural existence than I do. Since I am an economic development volunteer, we tend to have more urban placements, and the fact that I am living in the capital of a department can attest to that. But I do have to say, even the rural placements in Paraguay have access to basic things like electricity.

When this comprehension that I wasn’t going to live ‘in the bush’ started to really hit home, my first feeling was a tinge of sadness- What happened to the crazy two-year adventure, living under hardship and having to face everyday realities that millions across the world endure, like no proper access to water or transportation? Part of me craved this experience because that was what I envisioned the quintessential Peace Corps experience to be.

But now that I actually am in the Peace Corps and can finally call myself a Volunteer, I also have come to a new realization, a realization that I think Peace Corps has been battering over my head since the day I applied: this entire experience really is not about me. It’s not about my wants, my needs, or my expectations. It is about what my host country needs, and where they need me. My country requested me, and then after that my community- I had no control over the decision-making process. What both Paraguay and my community, Caazapá, needed was a Volunteer with a background in micro-finance. They needed a Volunteer who can teach business classes and family finance and savings practices. My community needed me, and the fact that they have luxury items like Pringles is quite frankly irrelevant.

It’s taken a few hurdles, but I have come to accept the fact that I am not living the established Peace Corps lifestyle, and that is okay. I may be living a super chuchi (nice) life compared to what I expected as a Peace Corps Volunteer, but this experience really chose me, and I’m going to roll with it.

And on the plus side, I’ll probably appreciate having a fan in the summer when it’s 115 degrees outside.

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