Rae Richards, 129 TESS
Welcome to a column meant to explore the highs and lows of Peace Corps volunteer life—in Thailand and beyond! Each month, we highlight a current Peace Corps Volunteer somewhere in the world and discuss the best and most difficult experiences that they have had in the last month. Through storytelling, we can glean how different and similar life is between volunteers across provinces and borders—enjoy!
Volunteer name: Kat Giannini
Site: Amnat Charoen, Isaan, Thailand
Interview date: July 24th, 2018
Interviewed by: Rae Richards
Rae: Hey Kat, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me today. So my first couple questions — I’ve got some silly either-or questions for you. Are you ready?
R: Breakfast food or dinner food?
K: Breakfast food.
R: Ice cream cones or cups?
K: Ice cream cones, man.
R: Sub-question here. Waffle cones or sugar cones?
K: Waffle cones!
R: Saaaame. Television or movies?
K: Probably movies.
R: And the last one — it’s a little country specific here. Thai massages (full body) or foot massages?
K: Thai massage.
R: [Laughs] I’d answer the exact same for all of these questions. Now that you’ve shared a bit with me, can we switch gears and talk about a low moment you’ve had at site or during your service in general? Anything that comes to mind that you’re comfortable sharing.
K: I would say the period of time after Reconnect when I felt like the honeymoon phase of PC had worn off. I realised how long this is, and how hard this is gonna be. I would have days where I would experience 73 different emotions in one day. It was such a rollercoaster. It took me a solid 6 weeks after Reconnect to adjust. Also the one-year slump was real for me– January was miserable, man. [Laughter] In January, I had a bit of a confrontation with my co-teacher and I left crying with tears in my eyes. I was so done. So those are the two biggest slumps for me in my service.
R: Damn, thank you for sharing those. To follow that up, what are some of your coping strategies that you use when your dealing with those moments? What lifts you up?
K: First of all, allowing myself to be upset. Not being ashamed of my tears and riding that wave. Definitely drawing and journaling is really helpful for me. There’s something cathartic about being able to write down your thoughts without the fear of being productive. Sometimes I didn’t even keep all the stuff I would write, I’d just allow myself to write down all the ugly thoughts I was having and throw the paper away. I don’t want to stew on it or look back on it. That’s been really helpful.
R: Thank you for sharing that — that’s awesome, I really like that idea. Now to talk about the opposite of hard times– could you speak to an accomplishment or a high moment you’ve had in your service? This can be anything at all– something that made you feel good.
K: I had a really great moment this past Saturday. I went to help tend to the rice with one of my two friends at site. [Laughter] Her name is P’Luk and she is a teacher at one of the schools I teach at. Her husband is P’Ohm and they’ve both kind of taken me in. I feel like I can really be myself with them, share my feelings openly. So we we’re out there in the rice field and they were teaching me to pull up these little rice plants by their roots without screwing them up. And I don’t know… I just had a moment where I looked out and thought, “Wow I am really out here, in the middle of nowhere, doing the most random thing… and I’m having a great time!” And I felt like a part of this tiny community. Something about that moment… or helping to make dinner in the evening. It’s those little moments that just get to me. Sometimes it’s just a yaai [Thai grandmother] getting really proud of me for doing the most basic things.
R: That’s beautiful. With these friends of yours at site, do you feel like you can communicate yourself well enough with them? Like is your closeness with them in part due to your language skills?
K: Definitely language for sure. Our friendship started because P’Luk asked me what movie stars I think are cute or something like that. And that allowed us to break out of the weather/food/how are you doing conversation which was huge. Having a large enough vocabulary to talk about things beyond how many peppers I can eat in my som tam [spicy papaya salad] was a big turning point. And being willing to do whatever helps– saying yes to random things that involve the people you enjoy, even if you don’t enjoy the activity or think you’ll enjoy it, helps a friendship. Going along with things helped our friendship a lot.
R: Now you’ve touched on how you like to journal already, but is there anything else you do to help you remember these good moments?
K: You know, I save random ticket stubs and things like that. I’m really bad at taking photos– awful at it. To me, my writing is what I prefer. I carry around my little journal and write down random things I would otherwise forget. All the little things– it’s nice to look back on.
R: My last questions for you are 1) what media are you consuming these days? And 2) do you have a blog?
K: I’ve been reading a lot of books on history lately. A lot of non-fiction because if I have all of this time [laughter] I might as well make myself more knowledgeable. I love podcasts so much, I listen on the daily.
R: Do you have any favorites?
K: I like This American Life, Hidden Brain, Food 4 Thot, Dear Sugars.
R: Ooo what is Dear Sugars about?
K: It’s an advice podcast and the two hosts have really soothing voices. I like to listen to people fix all the problems. [Laughter]
R: It’s free therapy!
R: Okay Kat well thank you again for taking the time to talk to me today, it was nice to catch up with you about your service.
K: No problem.
Thank you for reading another installment of Peaks & Valleys. Join us next month for another volunteer highlight and check out Rae’s previous interviews.
Questions, comments or suggestions? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org