Change Yourself…Change The World.

Embracing My Weird Self
January 29, 2012, 6:31 pm
Filed under: Paraguay

When I was merely a mild-mannered student, traveling the world and only dreaming about being a Peace Corps Volunteer, I never imagined the challenges I am going through right now. When my Peace Corps recruiter told me I would be serving under hardship, I imagined the challenges would be living in a mud hut, perhaps without water or electricity. I’ve done that before, I told myself confidently, remembering the months in India I went without these amenities. I never imagined that the Peace Corps would be a constant break-down of my ego, making me feel insecure about myself in ways I never have before.

There are a lot of things I have in my life that I am proud of and value. I’ve traveled to thirty countries at the age of 23, I’ve had an impressive amount of international development experience for my age, and I feel confident in the path I’m going down in my life. Personality-wise, I feel that I’m quirky, fun, and a generally kind person, with a flair for adventure. I enjoy utilizing my talents with music, photography, video editing, design, and I could talk for hours with anyone about business development, social entrepreneurship, or international affairs. Finally, I have many remarkably fantastic friends and a wonderful family. I’d say that in the United States, I’m a pretty unique person, and I value my individual identity.

In Paraguay, I’m not valued for nearly any of these things; my community just sees me as the weird American who lives alone, likes eating vegetables, and can barely speak their language. I still can’t express myself in Spanish or Guaraní the way I want to, and a lot of my uniqueness is lost in translation. The most general questions I still get asked to this day are things like whether I enjoy drinking tereré or if I know how to speak Guaraní (which in Paraguay, all you generally have to say is ‘mishimi’- a little- which will put any Paraguayan in hysterics and then nod their heads approvingly). Sometimes I feel like I’m losing my identity here. All of the things that I thought defined who I was- traveler, social entrepreneur, writer, book lover- they don’t translate here. What happens to a person when you take away their friends, their family, their language, their culture, their very own unique identity- everything that made them who they thought they were? Peace Corps is like setting your selfhood on fire.

But when I arise from those ashes, I am incredibly humbled. I see who I really am. Not everything is pretty or perfect all the time, like we preen ourselves to be in the United States. I am a human with flaws. Sometimes I get angry, tired, and irritated. I periodically break down and get burned out. I sometimes shut out everyone in my community or run away for the day, in desperation to feel like myself again. But even though sometimes I feel like I’m just a human blob to everyone with no thoughts or emotions, there are still people in my community who love and care about this blob. Who check up on this blob every day to see if they’re doing okay- who invite this blob over for sopa paraguaya or carne asado. So underneath all of the grand achievements and awards that I’ve chalked up to ‘who I am’ – there is still someone underneath there that is worthy of love.  And I am slowly- very slowly- learning to love and embrace this real person.

One of my mentors who inspired me to join the Peace Corps sent me a quote a few days ago- “Wherever You Go, There You Are.” My experience here is deconstructing who I thought I was, and it’s a battle every day- but it is also building up who I really am. Never before have I known myself like I do now; never before have I been able to really see my own strengths and weaknesses.

I think this is a big part of what the Peace Corps is all about.

3 Comments so far
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Excellent Brit! Another quote for you “No matter where I go i find myself there’ from the show “Sweet Charity”

Comment by Mama

Well Chris, Israel is not your cotruny. You do not live there, nor does the state policy impact on your daily life. I suggest you focus on your own home and allow Israel sort out its issues. What you really d not understand is the need for a Jewish state. Jews have not exclusively live in the US. The Arab world emptied itself of their ancient Jewish communities in a very short period. Some even sought inspiration from Nazi Germany. Ff course we already know what happened in Europe.I think it really disturbs you that Jews have a homeland. Jews can look at it as their home while residing elsewhere, which is not much different than, lets say ,the Armenian diaspora. I’m sorry this disturbs you. I am sorry you resent a little cotruny that is far more progressive, and democratic than its neighbors. You resent a little cotruny that exports medical advances, technology and scientific knowledge while its neighbors exports terrorism and oppresses its own citizens. Your resentment reminids me why Jews need a national homeland. Thanks you for that reminder.

Comment by Emmanuel

[…] discussed this before, but being in the Peace Corps and the only American in a completely foreign place can be a huge […]

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