Caitlin Roman, TCCS 128

A few weeks ago, during dinner with our host family, our brother turned to Louie and said “In 5 or 10 years we will eat dinner with your family.” The family to which he was referring does not yet exist… but the meaning was understood.

At the time of writing this, group 128 is about a week away from their one year mark. One year since many of us have set foot in America. One year since we’ve eaten our favorite foods. One year since we’ve held our pets, and in my case, talked in that stupid voice that only emerges when in the presence of my ‘Woo Woo Swizzle Butt’. One year since we’ve seen our parents, grandparents, siblings, nieces, nephews, and friends. One year since we came into each other’s lives. One year since we started a new chapter of our story in Thailand.

Just as we are preparing to enter a new stage of our service, we are also preparing for this new year. When I think about the start of a new year, my knee-jerk reaction is to say “good riddance” to 2016. It’s hard to look back on the year’s past events and not feel sad, angry, and hopeless. On a universal level, I think most of us can agree that 2016 was a year we wish we could forget. However, on a personal level, 2016 encapsulates some of the most joyful and transformative moments we, as PCVs, will perhaps ever know in our lifetimes.

Because I’ve been seriously leaning on yoga to help me cope with both the challenges of Peace Corps, and the anxiety I experience every time I open a New York Times email, I’m going to use a yoga analogy to help me get to whatever point I’m trying to make here… There is a phrase commonly used by yoga instructors to convey the importance of foundation: “root to rise”. The idea is that in order to grow or rise within a pose, and within our practice, we must first build a solid foundation. So the analogy goes, that the parts of our body that are in contact with the mat are seeds. Attention to how we plant those seeds is the key to growing roots, or establishing a strong and balanced foundation, and once we have established those roots, the rest of our body (the plant), can grow into whatever pose we have set out to create.

In the past year we have planted so many seeds through the contact we’ve made in our communities and beyond; with our counterparts, our host families, our students, the gǔuai-dtǐiao lady down the road, our aajans and the Peace Corps staff, and of course, our friends and fellow PCVs. We are now at a point in our service when the seeds we’ve planted have taken root… maybe not all of them, but enough (jing, jing.. whatever seeds you’ve managed to plant are way more seeds than existed one year ago, even if it’s only but one). We’ve built relationships, established trust, gained respect, and developed perspective. Now it’s time for those seeds to grow into the goals we’ve set and become the work that will define our service. However, just as in yoga, sometimes we need to modify, because just as each body is different, so is every Volunteer, and every site. As we approach year two of our service, many of us will have to reassess our original goals to determine how, and if, we can grow into them in a way that makes sense for our communities. For some of us, this might mean establishing a whole new set of goals, which may be disappointing, but the hardest part of adapting to anything is usually modifying our expectations of ourselves.

So, at the start of this new year, let’s resolve to be gentle, kind, patient, and forgiving with ourselves. Let’s vow to celebrate the gains we’ve made, instead of beating ourselves up for the times we’ve come up short. Let’s stop telling ourselves we’ve failed at something, and instead congratulate ourselves for those instances, however small, in which we’ve succeeded. And let’s remind ourselves daily that at the end of these 27 months, no matter what weird and beautiful plant our service has grown into, the roots will remain for as long as we continue to nurture them, and that that alone is a goal worth working towards.
Happy New Year, friends!

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