Laura Hyde, 130 YinD
A fellow PCV recently pointed out that being a volunteer in Peace Corps means living in a constant state of vulnerability. In that moment I felt validated.
After reading so many books by Brené Brown about empathy and vulnerability I thought that I was more than ready to be my most open and authentic self here in Thailand. But I wasn’t ready for how often I feel truly vulnerable as a PCV.
There are many ways that I regularly feel vulnerable. I don’t speak the language, I am learning new customs. Like any workplace, I am navigating the chain of command. Who I need to ask about what and what the spoken and unspoken expectations are for me on any given day. In addition to constantly trying to adjust and learn my role, my body is still adjusting. Adjusting to the heat, the biking, the food. I have met with the highest ranking officials in my community the whole time literally dripping in sweat. I have run out of the classroom to make it to the bathroom just in time.
Living everyday emotionally and physically vulnerable is hard, yet every day is still new and exciting.
I remember when I was young going on family vacations to foreign countries where we didn’t speak the language. I remember sitting across the table from distant relatives, eating breakfast and attempting to communicate by teaching each other the words for what we were eating in our respective languages. I remember being so frustrated when we would try to order food, or get lost, or not understand what was happening. I felt so vulnerable and out of control. But now I am so thankful for these experiences because my parents showed me this level of vulnerability was not only manageable, but that it can be an amazing experience too.
Recently I realized that this constant state of vulnerability not only drives connection (as Brené Brown says) but I find myself feeling a little more courageous and confident than before. Being here in this constant state of being unsure, uncomfortable, and vulnerable, has helped me release the part of me that tries to be in control. If everyday I am pushed to be vulnerable, to put myself out there not knowing what the outcome will be or how others will react, then I find myself more willing to try new things I wouldn’t have dared try back home.
I realize that as a cis-gender white woman and native English speaker growing up in the U.S. I had the privilege of being around people who looked and spoke like me. I recognize this level of comfort and lack of feeling constantly vulnerable does not exist for many, specifically marginalized communities in the U.S. Given my identity, being in Thailand I still experience lots of privileges and comforts that many other people do not. Often times when I do put myself out there, things turn out ok, and I know this isn’t true for everyone in part because of the many intersecting systems of oppression.
Lately, in this newfound stage of vulnerability, I am bold. When presented with a new situation I could think about all the things that could go wrong, or I could think about all the things I have already done and ask, I did that, what else can I do?
Take an overnight train to Chiang Mai by myself? Done! (and I made a new friend!)
Go run a race in this insane heat, even though the last time I ran a race I was was in much better shape and I hate exercising in public? OK! (I had amazing friends there supporting me and I had so much fun!)
Go on a tinder date alone in a new city? Sure! (and it was great!)
I recognize that my singular experience will never fully align with another PCV, but I felt moved and validated in a fellow volunteers’ reference to our common experience, struggle, and inevitable growth in choosing to live constantly vulnerable in our day to day lives in Thailand. The daily physical and mental toll of living vulnerable and exposed to a new community is an incredibly rewarding struggle. As I strive to embrace this level of constant vulnerability and courage I hope that in this moment, someone else feels validated too.