Presented by PSDN (Peer Support Diversity Network)
The period following Reconnect, a 10-day training that happens during our 7th month in Thailand, can be rough for many Peace Corps Volunteers. In an effort to foster support for Group 130, PSDN has reached out to Group 129 to solicit words of advice, encouragement, and wisdom. Here is what they had to say:
This too shall pass… but really it takes a lot to adjust and transition from site life to PCV functions and back. It can be exhilarating, exhausting, and overwhelming. Be good to yourself. Do what feels good. For me it’s lots of video chats, crafting, and dancing. And then planning the next thing to look forward to! – Kaori Cierra Yamamoto
Think of this as a garden, it takes time for seeds to sprout – water and weed – keep the pests away – flowers will bloom.
In the meantime, eat good food, laugh, and exercise. – Valerie Albicker
When anyone pops into your head message them and tell them you are thinking of them. This not only makes you feel more supported through your social network but it also recognizes others and their important roles in your life. You can go through your service alone but it makes it harder… a lot harder. Having a habit of reaching out to your support network back home, other volunteers, and folks at site makes it feel like your work is about connection and it is, fundamentally. I send my counterpart selfies everyday, I tell her I appreciate her work, I nam jai whenever I can and however I can. Once I started doing that my service turned around. If you spend the energy making the people in your life feel loved, valued, and seen… all of that is going to be reflected back to you. – Olivia Dawson
When you feel like throwing in the towel, take a vacation. – Tiffany Fitzgerald
Words of encouragement: This too shall pass. Hang in there because year two is amazing and it’s worth it! Don’t be afraid to reach out to your fellow volunteers. We’re all here for you and want to see you succeed!
Helpful distractions: Netflix! I’m currently immersed in Once Upon A Time. I also spend time doing yoga and pilates, reading, writing, drawing, and crocheting. If you’re interested in crochet or you want to be pen pals, send me a message on Facebook or Line and I’ll send you some goodies. Everyone loves getting mail! – Cat Nightengale
We exist in two worlds, the internal and the external, and try as we might, we will never be in complete control of that which lives and breathes outside of us. So focus inwards. Hold yourself accountable for the thoughts and actions that come from your inner self. Recognize that you yourself are also a being in search of belonging and significance in this life and that you cannot give what you do not already have. Take the time to find within yourself that place of worthiness, because nobody else in the world is going to find it for you. Understand that you are worth much, much more than the pain, regret, anger, frustration, or fear you may be feeling, and that you can never be defined by what others think of you unless you give them permission to. Don’t give them permission to. Don’t let yourself be controlled by negativity. Assert control over the only world you can ever hope to be the master of and find your place of irrevocable belonging. Believe in your significance as a unique human being with something to offer the world that no one else can. Trust in your own self worth as a human being, not necessarily a human doing, and I promise you, the rest will follow … – Clarence Say
Post Reconnect, my entire service was staring me in the face. I was still finding my way around, getting to know my schools, students, coteachers, and SAO staff. I felt pulled in every direction constantly and I’d never been so exhausted in my life, two a day football practices in August heat were nothing at this point.
During PST, a volunteer from group 127 told me that at the SAO around 5 pm he noticed people playing soccer and it turned it out it was a large group of SAO staff and some other community members. One evening, I took a walk around my house and noticed a bunch of people playing at a school within walking distance, it’s not a school I teach at but one that I’ve worked with occasionally. The next day I went out there and asked if I could play. I didn’t even have cleats and absolutely ruined my Huaraches by the end of the week, as they play every day it isn’t raining, but that weekend I went to the city, got some cleats and socks on sale and started playing with them nearly every day.
Over time, they started to talk to me more casually than before and it turns out I was playing with a bunch of pu yaai baans I hadn’t met yet, the postman, an EMS, and a mechanic who lives across the street from my house who is actually related to my host family. I was instantly connected to a lot of things in my village on complete accident. I don’t particularly enjoy playing soccer anymore as I stopped playing when I was 10 or 11 to pursue other sports, but I have always loved watching the game. When I was a kid I played goalie, but there I was playing all over the field and my reflexes were coming back to me a bit. I personally hate running and cycling, it’s really boring for me, but sports have always allowed me to zone out and not notice the running I’m doing. I found a connection out there on the field that I didn’t expect to have during service at all.
My advice is that if things are moving more slowly than you’d like or you’re feeling overwhelmed, take it day by day. When you see an opportunity take it and maybe a few months down the road it will turn into something you never expected. I had all kinds of ideas around this time about what I wanted to do and how I would execute them, but I found that over time my ideas might not have even worked to begin with, and that drawing on the strengths and interests around me was a much better avenue. You might end up in new territory, but that just means it’s time to explore. – Justin Lott
“‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.”
– Emily Dickinson – Anna McGillicuddy
I actually started doing this recently, but it has vastly improved my mood. I put on my tennis shoes and tell myself I’ll walk until I’m happy. Some days I walk for 2 hours, some days it’s only one. But having good music blasting and my thoughts drifting has been a very lovely new hobby. Also bother the sh*t out of your friends and make them talk to you. That always helps too! – Elizabeth Marik
“Read and embody stoic philosophy”
“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” – Viktor Frankl
“If you are pained by any external thing, it is not this thing that disturbs you, but your own judgment about it. And it is in your power to wipe out this judgment now.” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations – Alex Cotrufello
Making travel plans for the bpit-term ahead gave me something to look forward to when things weren’t going well in my work environment. I signed up for a Coursera course to keep me learning and a meditation retreat to start my bpit-term. It’s difficult for me to just pick up the phone and give another PCV a call, but when I did or when a PCV called me out of the blue, it meant the world to me and I would feel rejuvenated. Stay strong! You can get through this slump; even if today was terrible, find 1-3 things you appreciated or learned, write it down before you sleep, and know that tomorrow is a new day! – Lauren Cono
My time following Reconnect was pretty awful, honestly. It felt like my life was absolutely falling apart, and the two areas I really struggled in were expectations of myself and having people to talk with.
I had a constant paranoia that my coworkers and community members thought I wasn’t doing enough or working hard enough, and that put a lot of stress and strain on me, especially when they kept asking me to do more and more on top of what I was already doing. If you feel this way, you need to change your attitude on your service: if what they’re asking you to do doesn’t align with your priorities, it’s okay to say “no.” No one thinks you’re lazy for saying “no,” and most of your communities/schools are probably glad you’re there. It might help you to sit down with your counterpart and have a conversation about your respective priorities and reconfigure your focuses to achieve those.
I also only had two people I really felt comfortable reaching out to–in America or Thailand–and one of those people had questionable signal in the best of times. This created a lot of stress for me and the remaining person. Don’t be afraid to reach out to other people! It doesn’t have to be a deep conversation on all of your stresses: just having someone to take your mind off of the situation at hand can be so helpful. And likewise, trying to reach out to people outside your normal bubble can be really helpful to other people having a hard time. Christmas is another slump for a lot of people, and just sending a text asking people how they’re doing can make a huge difference. – Andy Anderson
The period of time right around Reconnect was probably one of the toughest I’ve experienced during service. I was constantly being forced to teach English (alone) and really wasn’t sure I wanted to continue fighting that battle for another 18 months.
A former PCV encouraged me to make a physical list of things that, if accomplished, would make me feel as though my service were a successful one. I literally wrote “What does a successful service look like to me?” at the top of a piece of paper and just started listing things. A couple days after I was done with the list, I grouped similar things together and wrote down “action items” I could do within the next week/month/school term, etc. When I started to take those actions, I slowly was able to better communicate what I wanted to do at site and how I wanted to do it.
Sure, I’ve not accomplished a lot of the things on that list and, realistically, I probably won’t accomplish them all before COS, but it’s been a great reminder of the things I’ve wanted to do or try from the start. It’s also served as a great reminder of why I wanted to join Peace Corps in the first place during the tough times since then, which are unfortunately inevitable. – Carly Allard
After Reconnect I was really hard on myself. There were so many things and ideas swirling around in my head that felt like they needed to be implemented and changed immediately. I got into a nasty habit of thinking about other volunteers at my site and how much better off my school would be if someone else were here. I felt really unorganized and out of rhythm. Finally, I took a moment to breathe and stepped back from the situation. I rode out the rest of the semester and evaluated my strengths as a teacher and those of my counterparts. We created a classroom management routine, variations of activities, and lesson plans that were unique to us as a teaching unit and spent time getting everything organized and in place for the second semester. I felt better because I stopped following the rules I had made in my head about what I should be doing and started allowing myself to color outside of the lines. Our activities are pieced together and chaotic, our learning materials are weird and artistic, our classroom management plan revolves around capes and masks, but ultimately, our students are engaged and learning. It works because it’s us. Everyone’s classroom is going to look and feel different and that’s what makes all of our schools lucky to have the volunteer they have. Be true to yourself and the rest will follow. – Michael Marano
Just breathe. There are some very hard days ahead. Tough. But hold on. Usually the next day is better. Step back. Enjoy the little successes in the journey. Enjoy just being with your students even if it seems like they are not learning anything from you. I guarantee they enjoy being with you. Realize many frustrations in your service are out of your control. What you can control is how you react and deal with those frustrations. Peace and perseverance to you. – Ray Kornegay
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