This is my first and very premature attempt at a Peace Corps blog. I am a little less than 4 months away from my departure to ECUADOR, meaning I really don’t have much to report, but I decided to make a blog to supplement the time in my office cubicle normally reserved for gchatting, stumbling, sporcling, and staring into the fluorescent ceiling lights. Needless to say, I am eager to get out of DC for a while (27 MONTHS) and explore the wild unknown of Ecuador. Since I really can’t say much about what I’ll be doing or where exactly I’ll be, I’ll just write a little bit about my assignment and the journey that led me to accept an invitation to leave everything and everyone I’ve ever known to move to the equator for 2 years.
ASSIGNMENT: My assignment is roughly from mid-May 2013 to mid-July 2015. First I’ll be in a city in Ecuador for 3 months for training, during which time I’ll live with a host family. The purpose of training (I’ve heard) is to become familiar with the language and culture, learn the technical skills necessary to carry out the job, and learn how to survive on a day to day basis without poisoning yourself or getting eaten alive by tarantulas the size of houses. After that, I’ll be assigned the community where I’ll be living for two years, which could be in the Amazon jungle, in the Andes mountains, or on the Pacific Coast. I’ll be working in the community health sector, but my specific assignment will be HIV/AIDS Prevention Education. I could not be more excited about this assignment. Years ago when I first began thinking about Peace Corps, I remember thinking, “wouldn’t it be SO COOL to do health work somewhere in South America?” SERIOUSLY. It’s exactly what I wanted to do. A few days before I got my invitation, I got an email from Peace Corps telling me that fewer than 50% of volunteers are invited into the program they were nominated for. I was fully preparing myself to be shipped off to Siberia to do igloo conservation work. I don’t think that’s a real thing. But I was nervous. I had been having a lot of doubts as to whether Peace Corps was the right path for me (which stemmed almost exclusively from a paralyzing fear of leaving my safe bubble of suburban northern Virginia) but when I got the invitation, I knew there was no way I could turn it down and not regret it for the rest of my life.
THE JOURNEY: I submitted my application on January 26th, 2012. I got my invitation almost exactly a year after submitting my application and will be departing in about 4 months. It has been a long, long process and I still have about nine thousand medical forms to fill out before I am officially cleared for departure. I finished grad school in May 2012 and have since been doing a strange assortment of short term jobs while living at home in Alexandria. It’s been hard to see my friends finish school and start their “real lives” by getting great jobs and moving into their own apartments while I work as an intern and wait tables, hoping that at some point my “real life” will begin as well. I honestly think I may have given up on this process a long time ago if it weren’t for a great piece of wisdom my recruiter shared with me almost a year ago during my Peace Corps interview in Charlottesville. He told me that he had to wait a long time between finishing school and starting his Peace Corps assignment, but that he has no idea what he did to pass the time because it was so inconsequential when compared to his 27 months in the Peace Corps. He said that the wait was well worth it, even though in the moment he felt like he was wasting time. Here’s hoping I start to feel the same way soon!
WHY? It’s hard to articulate the reasons I’ve chosen to serve in the Peace Corps, I think because there are a huge number of them that vary in importance depending on the day, my current emotional state, and the weather. I’ll try to sum them up in the most succinct way possible with minimal tangential/nonsensical rambling.
Because I can. I have been given every opportunity I possibly could have been given to set goals for myself and accomplish them. I have never had any physical or institutional barriers get in the way – not poverty, not discrimination, not the government, not a lack of access to health care or education, not disabilities, and not a lack of support from family and friends. My parents have provided me with every possible advantage in life and I am so, so thankful for that. However, I didn’t earn these opportunities; I got lucky. I have lived a cushy life for 24 years, and now someone is willing to give me the tools to make other people’s lives better. I am one hundred percent positive that, in 50 years when I am looking back at my life, I could not be proud of what I have contributed to the world if I had not taken time to give back some of what I have been given.
Because I’m scared. I LOVE the quote, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” I don’t even know where I heard it, but it has stuck with me since I did. I have lived in Virginia almost my entire life. I have spent every single one of my schooling years in this state, including undergrad AND grad schools. I don’t know a life outside of Virginia, and I am terrified to leave it! Which is exactly why I need to. If I don’t get out and see the world now when I have no real responsibilities and nothing holding me back, I know that I never will. YOLO, right? I’m obnoxious. I accept that.
Because I think I’ll be good at it. Public health and international development are my thing. My things. My other things are Spanish and Central/South American Politics. My degree is in Foreign Affairs with a concentration on Latin America. My master’s thesis was on how to improve women’s health (the the context of gender relations and intimate partner violence) on the U.S.-Mexico border. I spent three months in Guatemala working for an organization that focuses on women’s empowerment in indigenous communities. I have done what feels like one thousand projects and written 9 million pages on the economics of development, maternal and child health in developing countries, and gender relations in Latin America. I don’t have a lot of professional experience, but if there’s one thing that’s my thing, health in Latin America is my thing.
I think I’ve written enough for a blog entry about Peace Corps when I am still many months out from actually being in the Peace Corps. I’m sure I’ll be updating more when I start to panic about packing lists and the fact that I forgot how to speak Spanish or even really communicate with humans after spending so many hours alone in a cubicle. The adventure has just begun!