Rae Richards, 129 TCCS
Welcome to a new column meant to explore the highs and lows of Peace Corps volunteer life—in Thailand and beyond! Each month, we will highlight a current Peace Corps volunteer somewhere in the world and interview them about the best and most difficult experiences that they have had in the last month. Through storytelling, we can gleam at how different and similar life is between volunteers across provinces and borders—enjoy!
Volunteer name: Megan Ziegler
Project: Teacher Collaborator and Community Service (TCCS)
Site: Trang, Thailand
Interview date: August 22nd, 2017
Interviewed by: Rae Richards
Rae: So first question, just to get people acquainted with you—can you describe yourself in 5 sentences or less?
Megan: I’m a relaxed person who is somewhat of a homebody. I love books and music— I’m kind of a book nerd and a literature nerd, which is something I try to keep hidden because sometimes I get a little too passionate about it [laughter]. And I like traveling and writing and looooove vegetarian cooking.
Rae: That’s awesome. Now I have to ask—what’s your favorite book?
Megan: Ahh I feel like favorite books are a very personal thing and this is one of those books that I found when I was 14 and it’s just been a comfort ever since. It’s called A Cage of Stars. It’s not that popular—it was never really mainstream. I like it because it’s a book about forgiveness and it taught me a lot about perspectives and people from other backgrounds. I like the way it’s written and I really like the main character.
Rae: Ahh I love this. I think the books we read when we are young really shape us. Like so much of who I am is because of Harry [expletive] Potter.
Rae: Okay so we’re going to move on to your peak/high moment. Could you describe for me your biggest moment of joy in the last 30 days?
Megan: So I’ve actually given this question some thought, given the nature of this column. And the last month for me has quite frankly been pretty hard. But for me, so much of my daily struggle is focusing on myself, my job description, my job as a volunteer and it’s hard for me to step outside of my own shoes and see what those around me are getting out of this experience. So there was this one day at my school where there was an evaluation. And the Paw-Aw (School Director) was gone, and the person in charge after them was gone, so my counterpart was in charge. So we didn’t have classes together that day—she was running around with these health officials touring the school—and she kept coming into the teacher’s lounge, doing deep breathing exercises. She was clearly very nervous. And she took off her blazer and I saw she was wearing the Peace Corps polo I had given her. I know how important that day was to her, how nervous she was, and I know that most women when we have something big coming up, think very carefully about what we wear on that day. So the fact that she picked out that shirt made me feel like maybe I’m more appreciated than I realize. Maybe I’m impacting people in a positive way and this experience is better for others than I realize.
Rae: Wow, that’s such a simple and tender thing but it meant so much.
Megan: It was simple. And it’s so easy to get frustrated with our counterparts. But it meant a lot to see her so blatantly vulnerable—she was petrified! I was able to see how much she cared about her work and her job.
Rae: And the pride of getting to work with you came across in a real way. That’s really nice. Do you have a cool way of cataloging and remembering good moments like this?
Megan: I do keep a journal. I started it about three weeks ago.
Rae: It’s such a journey—I’m glad you’re writing it down. And thanks for sharing your peak—such a happy moment. Do you have more than one counterpart?
Megan: I have just the one. I’m slowly getting a second one. Peace Corps asked my counterpart to find me another. So now there’s another teacher I teach with once a week but it feels like I only have the one. And the one that I do have—we get along fine but we literally haven’t had the time to develop a relationship because the only time I see her is in the classroom. She is super busy, running around doing things… she’s the head of academic scheduling and she’s a single mom.
Rae: Damn, that’s real. Teachers anywhere do so much more than just teach. But for Thai teachers this is especially true. They are so [expletive] busy.
Megan: They are so overworked.
Rae: They really are. So switching gears a bit, I wanna ask you about your most difficult moment in the last 30 days. You can answer this as honestly as you’d like—I know that it’s not all roses and butterflies all the time [laughter].
Megan: I had a pretty low moment on Sunday. It was a variety of factors and then, finally, one thing tipped me off. My site’s pretty rural and there’s not anything around me. So if I want to do anything I have to bike. I have to bike to get food, I have to bike to go to the ATM, to refill my phone, to go to the post office. I have to bike everywhere—usually outside of my community. So it started when I biked to another volunteer’s site. I was helping her move, packing up her stuff before Peace Corps came to pick it up. I was happy to help but it was sad. It was goodbye to my kinda sitemate which I was spoiled to have in the first place. So then I’m biking back—biking normally puts me in such a good mood, the area’s pretty enough—and I stopped at the shop across from my house to grab some water. And the owner, who I see almost every day, he was like “Hey, I wanna tell you something”. And I was like “Okay, yeah, what?” And he tells me, “This area is very dangerous. I don’t think you should bike.” And I was like, “Well, I have to bike”. And he says, “Well if you do bike, make sure you cover your hair and your arms and legs. If someone sees you’re a foreigner, they could follow you.” And I understand why he thought he was being helpful but at that point I was already emotionally vulnerable, and tired. For someone to tell me that my only mode of transportation was too dangerous and that I need to cover up completely—ahh! Now it’s laughable but at the time I was like, “Are you kidding me? You want me to bike around in a jacket?? In Thailand?”
Rae: Yeah, the final straw on a long day. Is your community particularly conservative?
Megan: Not really. We are 100% Buddhist. The grandmothers show their shoulders, the teachers at school wear short dresses. That was my first thought too—am I being mai riap roi (inappropriate)? So it was weird to hear that.
Rae: This sounds like pile-on effect—you had a weird day and then on top of that, got unwarranted advice.
Megan: Yeah. And biking is one of the few things that brings me peace at site—it allows me to integrate better and get around. But for someone to tell me not to—it was frustrating.
Rae: Yeah, absolutely. When you have a shitty day, what’s your coping mechanism of choice?
Megan: In the past three months, I’ve found a lot of solace in working out. I have a yoga mat and resistance band… that or I have a friend back home who I like to call up and rant to. She always has really funny commentary and I find that humor is the best way to deal with these things.
Rae: Keeping busy and talking are both great ways to survive this. If you could go back in a time machine to that moment in the shop, would you have done anything differently to change the impact it had on you?
Megan: That’s a difficult question… I wish there was a way to step outside of myself because at the time, I couldn’t see past my own bad day. And I wouldn’t have taken him seriously, I would have been like, “Okay, yes, thanks, goodbye”.
Rae: Yeah! That moment you’ve just described—of wanting to step outside of one’s self—that is so much of what Peace Corps is for me. I ask myself all of the time, “How the hell do I not take this personally?”
Megan: It’s so hard to not take things personally.
Rae: Maybe it’s because we’re Americans. Who knows—I don’t. But speaking of personal things, I wanna ask about the best life advice you’ve ever been given. Does it ever show up for you in your life in Thailand?
Megan: The best advice I’ve been given is just to not take yourself too seriously. And that applies every day here. I’ve been able to develop a good relationship with my students and part of that is through humor—they make fun of my accent when I speak Thai and I laugh about it. That’s life here.
Rae: That’s too real. Thank you for sharing your high and your low. I feel like as a PCV, I almost never want to talk about the bad things. Especially when I talk to people outside of my site—I want to talk about the fun, the successes. But part of what I’m trying to do with this column is highlight the fact that there are high highs, low lows, and everything in between when you serve in the Peace Corps. It’s not just the Instagram pretty pictures.
Megan: I feel like we all are, more often than not, only posting the good stuff. Which is great for friends back home—Peace Corps third goal!—but not as great for eachother. We’re all facing very different and very similar things. We need to be real with each other.
Rae: Thank you so much for that wisdom. My final question for you today is what are your currently reading/watching/podcasting?
Megan: I’m currently reading A Time to Kill by John Grisham… I saw the movie a while ago. It’s pretty dark. But I like reading it because it gets me out of my head here at site. It’s a suspenseful courtroom drama. As far as Netflix, I just started The Good Wife. It’s good to have on in the background while I’m doing other stuff. And I’ve just started getting more into podcasts. I just started Limetown—it follows an investigative reporter who is looking into a town where everyone disappeared.
Rae: I always love a good podcast recommendation! Do you have a blog that people can check in with you at for the rest of your Peace Corps journey?
Megan: Yeah! It’s www.korhaichokdee.travel.blog
Rae: Thank you so much for your time and being so open!
Thank you for reading episode 2 of Peaks & Valleys. Tune in next month for another conversation about the sweet and the sour of Peace Corps life!