Stephanie Crocetti, 128 TCCS
The Peace Corps journey, an adventure down a trail lined with beautifully unusual flora and fauna, has opened my world to new means of travel. Entering as an outsider into my remote hill tribe community has its headaches. However, this experience has benefited me in ways I wouldn’t of had the pleasure of gaining had I only mapped out a one-month trek to the popular tourist destinations in Thailand. Traveling off the beaten path, into the local communities, untouched by outside cultural influence has allowed me to experience my host country in a very unique way.
Our initial focus as Peace Corps Volunteers is relationship building. The first month at site our main goal is to connect with the local people and nourish these tender relationships in order to gain a mutual level of respect and understanding. As newcomers trying to establish a staple role in the community we must culturally and verbally adapt to their daily rhythm. My presence in this village is constantly in the spotlight. I mean lets be real, I’m weird and different. People are curious. As a result, I am more aware of my words and the ways in which I use them. I have learned to truly listen before speaking, observe before acting, and verify before judging. It has been through communicating in their local language and displaying openness to their food and lifestyle that I have proven my commitment to these people. It has been quite humbling. This matchless experience, set at a 27-month time frame, has forced full immersion into a lifestyle that completely juxtaposes the one in which I find familiarity. Oddly enough, with patience and diligence, I have come to find comfort and routine in what once was highly foreign. With this new sense of familiarity have come stronger relationships.
Upon completing my service I plan to take advantage of being on this side of the world and travel to new cities. Kathmandu, Seoul, and Bali are few potential destinations. Although I do not have an itinerary established, I am actually a bit excited at the idea of traveling more “on the beaten path” as to experience foreign lands without being in the spotlight 24/7 (of course, I will be sure to scope out the hidden gems). With this being said, my Peace Corps experience has changed the way in which I will interact with the local people, tourist destination or not. I am confident I will make an effort to learn simple dialogue because now I know how far these efforts go. My service in the Peace Corps has spoiled me. I feel as though I have been indulging in a deluxe travel sandwich. The biggest gain from this experience is my heightened awareness of my presence in new cultures and our responsibility as travelers to act with utmost respect as guests in these new communities in which we are entering.