Change Yourself…Change The World.

1 Year in PY
May 28, 2012, 12:40 am
Filed under: Paraguay

It’s hard to believe that one year ago I stepped off an airplane with 23 other strangers to begin my adventure with the Peace Corps. I can’t believe I have been living in Paraguay and in South America for an entire year. I have not lived in any other country longer than Paraguay, other than my home country.

There’s been a whole lot of ups and downs, but when I look back on it all I’m incredibly grateful for this entire experience so far. All of my happiest moments are memories that I’ll have for the rest of my life. All of my challenges, failures, and hardest moments have brought me hard-earned lessons.

Some of the highlights of this past year have been:

– Life-long friendships within my own community, including two Paraguayan families who care a lot about me- one has made me godmother to her baby, another will name her baby after me if she is a girl!

– Learning two languages (and speaking nearly fluently in one of them)

– Learning a lot of hard skills in entrepreneurship and business, which is very exciting. I’ve helped successfully put on a business case competition and camp, I’m teaching a course on how to start your business to two high schools, helping prepare business plans with youth in my community, hosting a series of seminars on my cooperative on small business consulting and finance, helping increase education and awareness about loans and investment opportunities for my cooperative’s micro-credit program, and am the Project Manager for our upcoming national Business Plan Competition in August. Through all of these initiatives I’ve learned a LOT!

– Becoming a cooking whiz. Because all food must be made from scratch here, I’ve become a much better cook! I now make my own home-made salad dressings, whole wheat bread, pizza dough, pasta sauces, tortillas, wraps, and curries. I have a staple homemade brownie mix, carrot cake, and banana bread. I even made home-made frosting for a birthday cake once!

– Traveling all over Paraguay and seeing some really cool places (Some of the highlights are Carnaval in Encarnación, The Jesuit Ruins in Trinidad, celebrating Patron Saint Day in my own community, and Long Field Practice in Caaguazu).

– Learning how to be a teacher- something which I’ve had little experience in previous to the Peace Corps. I wouldn’t say teaching is the life trajectory for me, but knowing now that I can stand in front of a classroom and speak loudly in a language I can only half-speak and a subject I only half-understand has been very empowering.

– All of the effort and care I’ve put into my house in the Peace Corps- from sanding, de-molding, and painting almost all of the rooms by myself, to installing screens, metal bars, having curtains made and installed, ceiling fans put in, all of the furniture I’ve acquired or had made over the past 10 months, and all of the artwork and do-it-yourself decorating I’ve done- I now feel very comfortable and happy in my living space. It’s been really great learning how to do all of these things and seeing my home come together.

– The level of patience I’ve acquired over the past year. I’m generally an impatient person- it’s built into my genetic code. Traveling has helped me a lot with patience over the past four years, but living the tranquilo lifestyle as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Paraguay has chilled me out to an even greater extent. It took me about eight months to erase the ‘guilt complex’ that we Americans associate with our lives, which is: if you’re not working all day, every day at your job, your family, your life, then you’re wasting it all away. I always felt the need to do something and see tangible results, or I wouldn’t be happy. After a year learning to be patient in Paraguay- patient with projects, with my own expectations, with learning the language, and with the lifestyle down here- I’m now totally content spending my day sitting in a lawn chair drinking tereré with my neighbors.

– How to fail. Completely. Relentlessly. Ceaselessly. I’ve experienced first-hand my own projects fall apart, or have people not show up to something I spent hours preparing for. I’ve gone on passionate raves about business and received nothing but blank looks or tedious sighs. I’ve tereré’d one too many times with people and been eagerly promised one thing or another, only to find out that that was indeed an indirect ‘I’m not interested.’ I’ve reacted many times by running away for the day. Curling up into a ball in my room. Crying tears of frustration over the phone to a friend. Those moments in time were definitely not the highlights of the last year, but learning and accepting failure has been an unintentional benefit. And knowing that ‘try, try again,’ through and through has brought about some of the best moments of my service- that ‘Eureka!’ moment when something actually does work- nothing can put a price on that reward.

– Truly, everything I’ve learned about Paraguay in the past year. When I left South America last time (before the Peace Corps), I wrote a post about how even though I had spent a few months here, I didn’t feel like I knew a lot of the culture, and that I hoped to come back someday and ‘truly know all it had to offer.’ Now that I’ve been completely immersed here for a year, I’m so glad I came back. I now feel like I know this culture so much more, and it has influenced me in ways I am only beginning to realize. For example, I now have a problem saying ‘no’ to people (even if someone asks me for a drink of water), as it is considered rude in Paraguay. I have also realized that I increasingly hate conflict and that I’ve become much more indirect with people- all Paraguayan traits.

There’s been so much I’ve learned this year that I’m grateful for. It makes me even more excited for the next coming year, and all of things I’d like to accomplish before I leave. The goals are not too lofty, but rather achievable, with a blend of personal and professional goals. Here are some of those things:

What I’d like to accomplish in the next year:

– Start my own vegetable garden and compost bin. In fact, this is something I’ve wanted to do since I became a Peace Corps Volunteer- I am now finally just getting around to it. In June my fellow Peace Corps friend Gabe (who’s an Agriculture Volunteer) will be helping me create a garden at my house. I plan to only grow vegetables that are not readily available in Caazapá, such as zucchini, broccoli, arugula, eggplant, swiss chard, and spinach. I’m also starting my own herb garden, which will comprise of cilantro, basil, and oregano.

– With all of these new vegetables I’d like to also become a better cook- and that involves making my own mozzarella cheese (I’m getting a mozzarella cheese making kit!), yogurt, granola, and many more goodies!

– I’d like to get more involved in my local cooperative by helping start a youth group on entrepreneurship. I’d really like to get youth excited about business and how it can improve our community, as well as volunteer and community work. Some things I’d like to do with them are community projects like planting trees and painting a world map, fundraising activities such as movie nights or bake sales, and then progressing onto other projects like doing SWOT analysis for small business owners in our community, or going on a field trip to Villarica (a city an hour north of us) to learn about some really cool businesses and if they could be replicated in Caazapá. Finally, I’d love to expose them to social entrepreneurship by fundraising and getting grant money to take them on a field trip to the capital. There’s a few wonderful firsthand examples and speakers I would love for them to see and meet.

– In honor of my friend Becky, who was applying to the Peace Corps and passed away last August, I decided that I would like to do something in her honor during my service. When I traveled around India with Becky she always volunteered at schools, teaching children English. In August, I’d like to start teaching an English class to children, which is something I know she would’ve loved to do in the Peace Corps.

– I’d like to put on two more completely awesome business case competitions and business plan competitions for our sector, and continue to teach ‘Construye tus Sueños’ to youth in my community.

– I’d like to learn more Guaraní. I feel that I’m at a proficiency in Spanish that I feel very comfortable with, and I’d love to learn to converse more in Guaraní the final year I’m here.

– I’d like to make more friends in my community. Adjusting and immersing yourself to a foreign culture- alone- is extremely difficult. In the past year, I’ve often run away every other weekend to visit my Peace Corps friends and take refuge in speaking English, watching movies, and cooking yummy American food. Now that I’ve been here for a year, I feel that I’ve adjusted a lot more to my community, and I’m ready to invest a lot more time and effort into relationships here.

– I’d like to start teaching music. Fortunately, there is a music school in my community! They have a drum set and would like me to start teaching kids. I’m really excited about this opportunity.

After living here for the past year I’m proud to say that there is now a part of me that is Paraguayan- it has become part of my identity, and I really think it will continue to grow over the next 14 months I have here. Additionally, the Peace Corps has taught me a lot. I truly believe that I am a better person because of the Peace Corps. It has instilled a love of volunteerism in me on a different realm than before. It has taught me to love my neighbors, and to treat strangers with kindness and respect. It has brought me much more pleasure in the little things- such as taking an hour out of my day to chop up vegetables and cook, or hot bucket baths, or long conversations over tereré. I appreciate my family and friends back home so much more, and find myself more grateful for all the things I have in my life. And at the very least, after living with tarantulas for the past year, I’ve DEFINITELY gotten over my fear of spiders here.

Here’s to one year in Paraguay. And here’s for the next year to come.

Much love,

3 Comments so far
Leave a comment

I’m a PC nominee and I love this post 🙂

Comment by Future Diplomat

Thank you! Glad you enjoy 🙂

Comment by brittanygoesglobal

thanks!..for help my people…! welove the pc in paraguay!

Comment by edith

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