When starting this blog, I decided I always want to be honest. I want to form confianza with the readers and share with potential new Peace Corps volunteers, family members, friends, and curious readers what the Peace Corps experience has really been like for me. Every single volunteer has a personalized experience, which is the beautiful thing about serving in a country that is foreign to our own, but I have found when speaking to other volunteers, that the one thing we all have in common is that this journey is a roller coaster ride of emotions.
During training, the Peace Corps doctor Suni shared the above graphic of the “Cycle of Vulnerability and Adjustment,” which she says all volunteers face. This was shared with us during the second month of training, or during the “Honeymoon” period, so it was hard to believe the glamour and mystique of living in a beautiful country could ever wear off. But, so far, this graphic is pretty on point. Here is how this graphic can relate to my service thus far:
0-2 Months: The Honeymoon
The departure from my friends and family was emotional on so many levels. Of course, I was sad to leave the people that I care about more than anything in the world, but I was also incredibly excited. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I had heard the Peace Corps saying, “the toughest job you will ever love,” and I was ready to see what that meant. I was 100% sure of my purpose and ready to test out my strengths and weaknesses in a totally new environment.
I arrived in Lima and was flooded with anxiety, curiosity, eagerness, happiness, and fear all at the same time. Did I really just leave a job that was mentally fulfilling and my home and my family so that I could relearn how to eat and drink water and go to the bathroom and LIVE? Literally everything was new and it was thrilling. I will never forget the day my host mom had to teach me how to do laundry by hand. An eight hour flight turned a 27 year old adult into a 5 year old child experiencing life for the first time. Every where I turned, I saw nothing but new and exciting beauty.
1-3 Months: Mixed Culture Shock
When living in an unfamiliar culture, it is so easy to jump to conclusions and judge unfamiliar customs as strange or nonsensical. At this point, I was living in Lima with an incredibly patient and loving host family who often laughed with me as I was making lots of errors in Spanish and learning how to eat foods I had never seen before. The way Peace Corps has trained volunteers to look at these struggles is through a model called D.I.V.E. First, instead of immediately passing judgements, we must Describe what we are experiencing. Then we can Interpret the experience in a very unemotional way. Next we must Verify the experience by asking questions. Lastly, we can Evaluate the situation to make our judgements. This helps to avoid misunderstandings and negative feelings caused by misunderstandings.
3-6 Months: New Site
Moving into my new site was when reality hit. It wasn’t like Lima, where I could still find access to internet and constant electricity. I got to site and went 3 days without running water and watched my host mom kill all of our food that we ate. I found that it was harder to communicate with people and understand people when they spoke in a mixture of Spanish and Quechua. I also found that there were no people my age. All “jovenes” typically move to big cities where there are larger economies, so that just leaves babies, small children, and older adults in the campos. I was finding that my patience for myself and other people was thin and I was easily frustrated when I just could not get things to go my way. It was hard and lonely, but something that I needed to experience in order to be able to readjust my expectations and way of thinking. My sense of purpose went from 100% to about 50% in a matter of months.
6-12 Months: Adjustment
I am now in my 8th month of service and, I have to say, life feels normal. I can recognize a lot of my expectations and outlooks have changed and it is very apparent to me the traits that I need to continue to work on. I’ve had a ton of time to personally reflect and refocus my energy onto why I am here. I also now have a better understanding of my community and my role in my community. Overall, life is good and while I occasionally have days where the challenges seem overwhelming, I am adjusting at my own rate and focusing on doing my best rather than trying to make other people happy. I also feel proud for all that I have been able to accomplish in my short time in my site.
And the journey continues…
I am a firm believer that whenever we are facing any changes, whether Peace Corps or stepping foot on a college campus for the first time or accepting a new job, there is a period of vulnerability and adjustment. This cycle does not just apply to volunteers but all people. It is important that we learn to embrace some of those lows so that we can really appreciate the highs and find who we are and how we can contribute in the process. When we learn to embrace the hardships is when we will be able to find the beauty and peace in all experiences, so my hope is that this graphic can encourage readers to not lose hope, but allow the cycle to take place and endure the journey that life leads us on.