Every Peace Corps volunteer is asked to write an aspirational statement for his or her service before arriving in the country. I remember friends and family asking me exactly what I would be doing in Peru and I had no idea, yet I was tasked with coming up with aspirations for my experience. My aspirations became the personal goals that I had developed before having the goals of the United States government drilled into my everlasting memory. This statement has served me as a gauge of my success when it feels like the government mandated development goals feel so out of reach.
Now, I have less than one month left out of my 27-month commitment to service in the Peace Corps. It is a bittersweet feeling as I reflect on where I have been and plan what is to come next. This morning I woke up to the realization that this world that was so abstract and disconnected from my life just two years ago has become my home. All I knew about Peru was Machu Picchu and llamas. That’s it. Now, I have explored the country, met diverse and unbelievably talented artisans, fallen in love with a Peruvian man, and eaten at least 1,000 of the 3,000 varieties of potatoes found in this country. Guinea pig, too. I have eaten A LOT of guinea pig.
I reflected on the fact that, despite all of my incredible Peruvian stories, my blog writing and engagement with storytelling has declined and that is mainly because life has gotten less shiny and new in Peru. There are amazing and defeating experiences that I have on a daily basis, but it has gotten so hard to relate my stories in a context that I feel do them justice. They are personal and have resulted in my growth and the idea of sharing those through a social media platform takes away how special they are to me. No one else can understand them. They are mine.
What I would like to share, instead, are some highlights from the aspirational statement I wrote 27 months ago and what living in Peru for two years has taught me.
“During my Peace Corps service, I plan to use my Master of Business education and my work experience to attribute to the economic development of Peru.”
Oh man, this one actually makes me laugh. It was naïve for me to believe that my formal education and skills developed in the United States would translate to the drastically different, soft-skill focused work with the impoverished people of my community. I have learned an entirely new approach to business that includes relationship building and slow improvements that start from the very basics. Not once did I apply my Mergers & Acquisitions MBA class, but I did apply the Crucial Conversations book I read in my Organizational Behavior class. I have nourished my soft skills and I have familiarized myself with failure. I have learned how to bounce back from failure and be okay with underachievement. In the United States, failure was a bad word for me. In Peru, failure is a part of my growth.
“I believe the key to adapting to a new culture is to be open-minded, willing, and accepting. Saying yes and engaging in cultural experiences will be a key to gaining mutual trust within the community that I am in. It will also be critical for me to not jump to conclusions, and first understand the culture by being engaged in the community and making sure that I am accepting of the new experiences that I encounter, even if it is not always comfortable.”
One of the most critical lessons I have learned from Peace Corps and my experience in Chacas is the ability to D.I.V.E. When something happens that I don’t agree with and makes me uncomfortable, it would be cruel for me to write off a person or an experience. First I have to Define what bothers me, Interpret why it bothers me, Verify by asking questions or research, and THEN Evaluate by passing an informed judgment call. This is something that can be directly applied to the United States, as well. I see on social media the constant political attacks that frankly make me horrified that the leadership can get away with some of the unintelligent and embarrassing quotes I have read. But then I remember, I need to understand and verify what I am reading before I can actually evaluate what my opinion is. The US seems to be in a state of constant accuse and little compassion, so I believe the goal I set for myself of being open-minded, willing, and accepting before jumping to a final conclusion is one that all of us could continue to fine tune. And sometimes, the final conclusion is that the person, experience, or thing is absolutely unjustifiably bad and we can stand by our opinions knowing that we have explored every possible angle. Sometimes we find that we can respect a difference and acknowledge that it is nothing but a different point of view. Words carry a lot of weight, so we must be certain before we pass judgment.
In my final 25 days in Chacas, I will be saying goodbye and expressing gratitude to the people who have made my service unforgettable. Chacas is receiving a replacement volunteer and she just swore in to the US Peace Corps yesterday, so I have the opportunity to know that Chacas will continue to improve and grow while being excited for the new volunteer to share in this life changing experience. Thank you all who have followed my journey. There is still much more to come as I move to Lima in July, get married to my very best friend/family over the past two years, and see where our path take us.