Advice

What We’ve Learned So Far

Peace Corps Thailand Group 129

This quarter our staff voted on the theme, “What have you learned from Peace Corps?” We reached out to all 49 volunteers of Group 129 and asked them for a quick response. After reflecting on their first year of service (and a barrage of messages on multiple social media platforms) all 49 volunteers responded!

I’ve learned that true friendship cannot be restricted by age, beliefs, or culture, but rather is enhanced through a shared understanding and acceptance of one another and our differences. – Theresa Kozelka 

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I’ve learned that hand-washing laundry is both painful and frustrating.
I’ve learned bad days happen, but the pain can be alleviated by a kind word or smile.
I’ve learned that I can both receive those smiles and give them.
I’ve learned that kids are both infuriatingly annoying and the greatest gifts on the face of the earth.
I’ve learned that just because you feel like your work is futile, doesn’t mean it’s true.
I’ve learned that my biggest critic is myself.
I’ve learned that life is better when lived in real life and not through a screen.
I’ve learned that people are complicated and emotions cannot be controlled, only accepted and endured.
I’ve learned that building community is hard, but all worthwhile things take time.
I’ve learned that even with all the ups and downs, there is nowhere I’d rather be. – Celete Kato

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I’ve learned to see my mind adjusting. Also, on long rural rides I learned to carry a big stick and pedal fast. And how quickly I could go from meditative calmness to primal aggression when attacked by two large German Shepherds. – George McCaffrey 

I’ve learned that fun is a language universally understood. – Randall Glasgow

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I’ve learned that the childhood skill of catching lizards becomes applicable to life in Thailand when mosquitos are turning you into Swiss cheese and bug-eating geckos become your best friends. – Lauren Cono

I’ve learned from my mistakes that I will continue to make mistakes until I stop making the mistake of allowing my mistakes to make me feel like a mistake. I am learning to embrace life and live it well. – Clarence Say

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I’ve learned the heart can expand its capacities to contain new experiences/frustrating experiences, beauty/not beauty, new friends/strange encounters, and weird ass teaching schedules. – Barbara Allen

I’ve learned how to fall in love with fleeting moments. – Anna McGillicuddy

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I’ve learned to be thankful for every connection I make. – Nikolai Stern

I’ve learned that I can do whatever I really, really want to do. The challenge is taking the time and making the space to figure out what that is. It’s both exciting and terrifying. I’ve also learned that when handling Thai peppers it’s more important to wash your hands before going to the bathroom than after. – Michael Marano

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I’ve learned that I’m not sure what I’ve learned. – Tiffany Fitzgerald 

I’ve learned how to love people with wildly different backgrounds than me. – Rae Richards

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I’ve learned that the best laid plans of men often go awry, but the backup plan usually turns out pretty good too. – Kat Giannini

I’ve learned to appreciate having options…

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how to make bread in a rice cooker…

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and how to make brooms. – Valerie Albicker 

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I’ve learned that you should never trust a fart in Thailand. – Dalton Striedel

I’ve learned that a smile can break any language or cultural barrier. – Yousif Al-Amin

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I’ve learned how to live happily in a constant state of confusion. – Abbey Weiler

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I’ve learned how temporary my feelings are, how beautiful, empowering, and grounding that thought can be.. For me, learning my own ways through temporary-ness eases the fact that the Peace Corps experience is entirely about being present in an extremely liminal space. – Olivia Dawson

I’ve learned growth and comfort cannot coexist. – Christian Ramirez 

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I’ve learned that having humility can allow one to enjoy even the most embarrassing moments. – Alex Cotrufello 

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I’ve learned that I can’t summarize this experience in one sentence. – Romil Pineda 

I’ve learned how to fit in while standing out. – Pablo Doster

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I’ve learned how simple it can be to connect with others despite how different they may seem. Laughter, enjoying good food, and spending quality time are simple ways to bond with most people. – Audrey Ardine

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I’ve learned to appreciate the generally slow-paced Thai lifestyle and relaxed work atmosphere. – Christine McCaffrey

I’ve learned the art of bargaining at the market. – Eygiel Limbo

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I’ve learned to be unapologetic about who I am: sensitive, quiet, and reflective. – Mookho Mokhesi

I’ve learned to always wash clothes you buy at the market before you wear them. – Kaori Cierra Alonso Yamamoto 

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I’ve learned to redefine the meaning of friendship because anyone can be a friend. – Carly Allard

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I’ve learned it’s ok to have no idea what is happening. – Jordan Niemoeller

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I’ve learned to let things happen instead of trying to force them in a lot of different ways, from work to the classroom to projects. I’ve learned not to take myself so seriously and to look for a new definition of results. I’ve learned so much it’s hard to nail down a few things that highlight it all, but I know I’m nowhere near finished learning during my service. – Justin Lott

I’ve learned you don’t need to be perfect. You just need to be present. – Cat Nightengale 

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I’ve learned that compassion accomplishes more than criticism, the value of conversation, and that ants are skillful creatures! – Ray Kornegay 

I’ve learned that sometimes you gotta eat pig intestines to get to the good stuff. – Elizabeth Marik 

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I’ve learned that Thailand has amazing sunsets, Thai people really know how to handle spice, and that the best memories are made in the company of others. – Diana Garcia

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I’ve learned a lot… – Nathan Caballero

I’ve learned how to be a big sister. – Genevieve Montreuil

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I’ve learned that sometimes the smallest actions can have the biggest impact. – Megan Cindric

I’ve learned that love requires no language. – Megan Dalley

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I’ve learned that success or impact as a PCV isn’t always measured by VRF objectives and outcomes. The smallest interaction, conversation, or smile can make an impact on someone, even if for a second. Don’t stress the big stuff and embrace the little moments. – Kyle Kvamme

I’ve learned to own my narrative. No matter where you are or what the circumstances may be, it’s important to speak for yourself because no one else will. – Hoi Kipgen

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I’ve learned how to find something to enjoy in every situation and the importance in focusing on that instead of the things I don’t like. – Kayla McCabe

I’ve learned that the best way to integrate is saying yes. – Chandler Smith

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I’ve learned that sometimes roosters awaken at 2 AM. – Andy Anderson, sent at 1:43 AM

I’ve learned that our country is in very good hands because the young volunteers I have gotten to know are very talented, hardworking, and caring individuals. – Laura Hernandez Figueroa

I’ve learned that food is a universal language. It’s a greeting, an invitation, an expression of friendship, a prayer that unites all around. Cuisine, both Thai and American, helps foster communication and friendship across cultural and lingual divides. – McKenzie Paterson

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I’ve learned that having patience and acceptance of others is important… but it’s not nearly as important as having it for ourselves. Understanding who we are, what we’re doing, who we’re around, what our job is – yes, it makes us grow and evolve for sure, but it doesn’t give us the fulfillment of self-acceptance. Being okay with not being okay is enough. Looking at ourselves in the mirror and not having judgment towards ourselves or our livelihood is quite an accomplishment. In other words – surrendering and waving the white flag is no longer a sign of weakness for me but a sign of self awareness and acceptance for who I am as a person. – Christina Beynon

I’ve learned feeling lost is actually where I need to be sometimes. – Quincy Clowe

I’ve learned that whenever you are doing development work it is always good to know people that can assist you. Unlike in business we are not trying to compete against one another. Since we all are trying to solve some of the most difficult issues of our time we need to rely on one another. Help can come from a lot of different places. Sometimes this help can come from places that you least expect. Sometimes you just need to look right in front of you. If you have an open mind and can trust the people you work with then you can do a lot that can benefit a lot of people. – Christopher Pinkos

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1. No matter how alone you feel, someone is always there with you. I’ve often felt isolated – geographically and culturally, obviously – throughout my service, but I’ve also often felt isolated from other volunteers. As PCVs, we’re stuck with each other for our full 2-year service, which seems daunting when you don’t quite fit in or find your people by the end of PST. It took me quite some time to find my niche within the group. Sometimes, I still feel like I’m on the outside looking in, but a year and a half in, the walls are starting to come down, bonds of trust are taking root, and calls home remind me I am loved, I am seen, I am appreciated, and I am not forgotten. Which brings me to…

2. Absence makes the heart grow fonder… Or whatever the saying is. My close relationships have always been strong, but nothing has ever made me appreciate the unconditional love I receive from my friends and family quite like turning to them in my lowest moments in Thailand and finding the comfort they give is warm and familiar and just as potent from the other side of the planet. I’ve read somewhere before (probably on Pinterest) that the people who are supposed to be in our lives will remain, no matter the time or distance between. I am grateful for the connections that transcend time, space, growth, hardship, and change.

3. Both success and failure look much different than I anticipated they would. As a new classroom teacher, I didn’t expect to have so much success with my primary goal as a TCCS volunteer. As a communicator and community-builder, I didn’t expect to struggle so much with feeling like I’m actually part of my community. Victory looks like spending an afternoon with the Yai next door, and holding a full conversation despite her mouthful of beetle root. Failure looks like breaking down at the beginning of my second consecutive 12-hour bus ride, because micro-aggressions in Thailand hurt just as much as micro-aggressions in America, and silly me somehow thought moving to another country would soften the blow of discrimination.

4. There is no such thing as a “perfect volunteer.” Every person’s service is unique. It is shaped not only by the volunteer, but by counterparts, community, friends, family, circumstance, and sometimes even the weather. We came here with big ambitions, goals, ideas, enthusiasm, and excitement. All of it fades. This doesn’t mean it disappears; it means our priorities change, our relationships grow, deteriorate, evolve – and that’s okay. We become a fixture in our community in unanticipated ways. We accomplish, but the accomplishment looks much different than we imagined it would. And, as one of my fellow volunteers pointed out, we survive. I don’t think any of us would say we’re thriving. And the stubbornness, the perseverance, the grit becomes a commonality that binds each cohort together, that binds all PCVs together as a family.

5. “Humble yourself for your community. It’s bigger than you.” This was the advice written on the back of a photograph passed on to me by a COS-ing PCV the day I swore into service. My goals for my service don’t always align with the needs of my community. My service has largely been about finding a space of compromise so I’m serving the needs of my community in ways that also fulfill me. One of my favorite quotes goes: “When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” I’ve been doing my best to let go of my expectations of what I thought my service would be so I can appreciate what it is. This has allotted me unique experiences, enabled me to develop new skills, and taught me the value in exploring things I ordinarily wouldn’t be interested in exploring.

Truthfully, there is no way to summarize everything I’ve learned in Peace Corps. The lessons don’t arrive, neatly packaged at my door. They are often confusing, unclear, painful, and prolonged. It takes hours of conversation – venting and discussing and hashing out – before the seedling of an idea is recognizable beneath the congealed mess of emotion; but just as Thai has become clearer, so too has each lesson. Peace Corps is hard. But I can do hard things. Above everything else, I relearn this everyday. – Natalie Garro

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4 replies »

  1. I briefly meet a member of this group in Los Angeles airport. She was from Bozeman MT. I hope she is doing well. I will follow your posts to see if she is having a great experience. Best wishes to her and all of the peace Corp volunteers

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