Rae Richards, 129 TCCS
Welcome to a 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: Andy Anderson
Site: Tak, Thailand
Interviewed by: Rae Richards
Rae: Hey Andy! My first question for you is super silly– if you could have any superhero power, what would it be and why?
Andy: This is always such a hard question. I think I’m going to be very utilitarian with this one. I’m going to choose the ability to speak, read, write and understand any language.
Rae: That’s an amazing super power. That would make service so different– to actually understand what’s going on.
Andy: And also travel! I hate the idea of being just a tourist so this would open up every country to me.
Rae: And you could preserve languages that are about to go extinct! So bad*ss.
Andy: Yeah, I guess the one downfall of this [power] is that you can speak and understand a language without really understanding things on a deeper level.
Rae: That’s a really cool answer. I have yet to hear such a creative response to this question.
*We proceed to talk about the perils of shape-shifting, X-Men’s Mystique, and the human condition. Why aren’t humans happy?*
Rae: So I’m going to change it up on you now and ask you to talk about a low moment you’ve had in the last 30 days or so? It can look like anything– a week, a particular moment, however you want to answer the question.
Andy: There was a period of time where I just wasn’t feeling very supported all around. I was reaching out to volunteers for support– shout out to Quincy and Mo– they supported me without just blindly agreeing with me… That devil’s advocate can be kinda hard to hear sometimes but it can help with evaluating your situation and what you really need to do.
So communication wasn’t happening around things I needed to know about or wanted to participate in at site. I was jumping through a bunch of hoops for things that should have been very simple to do– I still am, actually. Between the hoops and the pressure to make sure people are adequately accommodated, it’s been difficult. I tried to reach out to people with more authority that I thought could help– but the reactions I was getting weren’t what I expected… I didn’t feel supported and I was freaking out.
But it’s just one of those things about service– service is different from moment to moment. As soon as things fell apart, I got an email back from someone I needed to hear from and someone reached out to help fix something. It’s so funny how sudden those highs and lows come. Two or three things don’t quite go right and suddenly you’re looking at everything in the past few days/weeks/months with a negative lens… It’s easy to one day look at everything and go, “Yeah everything’s great!” and the next day, feel like, “Noooo, I misread everything!”
Rae: When you’re having difficult moments– struggling with communication or what-have-you– what are some things that you do to cheer yourself up? Do you have a go-to routine/ exercise/ friend you call?
Andy: With things like this, I have to decide if I’m being rational or responding appropriately. So usually I go to Mo who takes no ****. She is not afraid to tell me, “I think you need some time to think about this, because maybe there is something to this – but probably not.” And Quincy is great, too, because she knows exactly what a person needs in a given moment. Sometimes it’s validation and from there, some more reflection.
Rae: So you get the tough love from one friend and the validation from another– it sounds like a good balance.
Andy: Beyond them, sometimes I just need to get my life back in order. I use an app (called Habit Tracker) to track certain behaviors. Household maintenance is huge – dishes, laundry, etc. Something I can keep an eye on and see when I’m slipping up, then use it get my life back on track.
Rae: That’s a really cool way to help you stay on track– definitely a tool I would like to try using in my own life. So now that we’ve covered a low moment, I would now like for you to reflect on an awesome high moment you’ve had in the last month.
Andy: So a mini-high moment: it’s finals week right now, and my counterpart asked me to do a speaking and listening portion of the test in addition to the written test. It was an awesome moment, because she asked for my help– she wanted to do it!
Then the big-high moment: in the very beginning of the year, I had a student who wasn’t really trying hard. Once I started teaching the class every day, he got more engaged. There was one day where he and another student were struggling with something, and I had them stay after class for fifteen minutes to go over it until they felt more confident about it. Then I started noticing him stepping up a bit more in class– still not a teacher’s pet, but I could see his effort.
Flash-forward to finals this week– we’re doing this test, and he doesn’t get 100, but he did it– he got most of the comprehension stuff, most of the sentences, most of the CVC words. Afterwards, I stood up and was like, “Dude that was amazing! You did such a good job!” and we hugged it out. And I talked to my co-teacher and said, “You remember where he was right? He didn’t know any phonics, he was not interested in this class. But look at how well he did!” And she was really impressed, too. We were both really proud of him.
He probably could have always done it, but he needed the confidence to do it. As a Section 2 student, he was placed in a “low-achieving” class, and he has been in the same class since Anuban (kindergarten). The Section 1 kids get smarter as they move through Bratom (elementary), while the Section 2 kids fall behind and are told that they can’t do hard things. But my Section 2 class busted their butts. I was there, telling them they could do it, giving them challenging materials. I think it was new for a lot of them but I still became close with a lot of them in that class.
Rae: That’s a really beautiful achievement. My heart just got all warm and fuzzy.
*Segue conversation about the pitfalls of trying to measure success as a volunteer. How can you quantify and qualify these life changing moments?????*
Rae: Bringing it back, how do you celebrate these awesome moments?
Andy: It’s something I should work on. I like to tell somebody– my counterpart or friends. I have a group chat with other volunteers where I can share my successes. I have a Peace Corps blog that I’ll occasionally post a photo on and write up a quick date and description of something cool that happened. I make food with some students and will take pictures of the finished masterpiece and post the recipe with it.
Rae: What’s your blog link? I’m sure people would love to follow you and see what you’re up to!
Andy: It’s adventuresofanderson.tumblr.com
Rae: Excellent. Andy my final question today is what media are you currently consuming? Podcasts, movies, music?
Andy: As I’ve been checked out of school mentally for the past two weeks, I’ve been playing Harvest Moon: A Tale of Two Towns on 3DS obsessively. Also I just started getting into podcasts recently (99% Invisible, which is about architecture), and I just got my first Spotify subscription– finally getting back into music in a big way.
Rae: I’ll have to check out that podcast! Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me today Andy– it was great to hear what’s working well for you.
Thanks for reading this volume of Peaks and Valleys! Questions, comments or suggestions can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org