Change Yourself…Change The World.

What the Peace Corps Has Taught Me: 6 Months In Site
February 15, 2012, 6:44 am
Filed under: Paraguay

Recently, I hit the 6-month mark; I have now been living in Caazapá, Paraguay for half a year.

Generally the 6 month-mark is a tumultuous time for Volunteers. As Americans we like to celebrate any anniversary or special occasion we can, hence after 6 months it’s hard NOT to stop and reflect (even if just only for a second). Some reflections from Volunteers are struggles or failures while trying to adapt to a completely foreign culture; some are joys and successes.

I’m an extremely reflective person, so the 6 month mark holds special significance for me. Here’s 6 things I’ve learned in the past 6 months.

The Peace Corps has taught me Compassion, especially when it comes to strangers. Being the outsider in my community, and speaking Spanish and Guaraní as a second and third language, has given me a sense of perspective I’ve never known. There are a lot of things I’ve learned from the Peace Corps. For example, I know that I will view immigrants in an entirely new light when I’m back in the United States; mostly this will translate into inviting them to my house to eat (in typical Paraguayan fashion), but under the surface level making them feel welcomed and wanted in our country. I am also cognizant now how important it is to be kind, friendly, and supportive to my neighbors. I believe that the Peace Corps has generally made me a more compassionate and understanding person.

The Peace Corps has taught me Courage. Stepping outside of my house every day is literally an act of courage. Every single day I am pushed out of my comfort zone here. Getting in front of a group of people, whether teaching English, business, or  even sharing an idea takes an extreme amount of energy. As the foreigner struggling to adapt to a culture, I’m the one that always has to put myself out there- in a foreign language, no less. I cannot stress how difficult this is. Many times, I have to pretend like I know what I’m doing when I really just have no idea. Usually I’m scared or timid, and so I smile wider, talk louder, and hope that people don’t realize I’m babbling. It’s scary, every time. But with that fear also comes a sort of confidence I didn’t know I had. I am becoming more and more accustomed to making a fool out of myself in front of people, and I’m less bothered by it. Perfection no longer rules your life when you’re a teacher. I now dance and sing in front of just about anyone. I laugh at my grammatical errors in Spanish or Guaraní, and I don’t take jibes personally anymore. This is the sort of building up that the Peace Corps teaches you; having the courage to face a foreign world every day.

The Peace Corps has taught me Perseverance. This doesn’t just apply to being in the Peace Corps; merely getting in took me two years in itself, and that was an act of extreme commitment. Now as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I’ve heard the first 6 months are generally the hardest in site; in my experience, I would say that’s a true statement. So every day that I am still here is another accomplishment to me; every month is a celebration that I made it through, that I didn’t throw up my hands and give up. There are times that I wish I was home with my family or my friends. Times when I wish I could be traveling around the world, or those frustrating moments when I wish I had a regular American job where I could feel productive, wanted, and congratulated on accomplishing set objectives. But I know I’ve made a commitment to the Peace Corps- like a marriage, through the best and worst of times, I won’t quit. I know I can do this. And I know that at the end of my two years, it will be the ultimate accomplishment of my life to have made it. If I can do the Peace Corps, I can do anything.

The Peace Corps has taught me Humility. Being thrown into a community, with all of your guards taken down is an extremely humbling experience. Struggling to speak a language every day is a humbling experience. Feeling a lack of identity in my community can very much feel demeaning at times. But with this humility comes grace, appreciation, and love for things I never noticed before- both inside and outside of myself.

The Peace Corps has taught me Patience. I’ve learned patience in myself; having to learn to accept that projects take time and will come along when they’re ready. I’ve definitely gotten extremely frustrated over the past six months on how long some things can take, whether it’s building relationships, feeling accepted, getting a project going, or speaking the language. This internal exasperation has become less common over the months. I’ve learned patience in other people; learning to not take it personally when people promise me they will come to my classes, or to drink tereré and share a meal at my house, and then not show up. I’ve learned patience in waiting: whether it’s bus rides, ‘la hora Paraguaya’ (Paraguayan hour) which means everyone is perpetually 15 minutes to an hour late to everything, for the hot sun to set and bring in the cooler night temperatures, for my neighbors to let me use their washing machine when it’s free- my life revolves around waiting. But I think at the end of these two years, not a lot is going to shake me.

The Peace Corps has taught me Gratitude. Seeing how much my neighbors have accepted me into their lives- the crazy strange foreigner from America- truly makes me appreciate what selflessness means. Just last week my neighbor Mari (who I like to call ‘my Paraguayan mother’) helped me wash my laundry in her house and then invited me to eat lunch with her. I choked back tears while we feasted on delicious fideo (pasta with meat), overwhelmed with the knowledge that her family gives me so much that I never re-pay. My community constantly teaches me so much about kindness to strangers, selflessness, and giving without expectation. I think this is the one thing I will really take away from the Peace Corps.

These are a few of many lessons I’ve learned in the last six months here. The Peace Corps has been the most challenging yet rewarding experience of my life, and I can’t wait to see where the next year and a half here takes me.

4 Comments so far
Leave a comment

You are amazing. Keep reflecting. And sharing.

Comment by Polina

Caazapa.. I remember going by it all the time when I was a PCV in eusebio ayala in the late 80’s. Ahhh memories. PC is like a bookmark in your life. No 2 year period will be like those 2 you have overseas. Relish them….which I am glad to see, you are doing.


Comment by karl

I ran across your blog because I couldn’t remember how to spell a Guarani word & googled it. I’m writing about when I was a PCV in Paraguay 96-98. A beekeeper in Repatriacion. I was in my 50s then. It was difficult, but such a rich experience. It’s great fun to read your stories and remember!

Comment by Kay

Amazing! So glad you loved it. I did too.l

Comment by brittanygoesglobal

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