Kara Anthony, 130 TESS
Once upon a time, there was a girl who came into this world blindfolded, with only a blank piece of paper and a pen in hand. She was persistent, and incredibly eager according to her mother. Foolishly, she was ready to take on the world without a lick of human knowledge on how to navigate it. Unintentionally and unknowingly, she became a sponge to her environment. She was exposed to parents that cared for her very deeply, teachers whom inspired, nurtured, and simultaneously challenged her far beyond what she thought she was capable of, peers who influenced her for better and for worse, and relationships that taught her more lessons than one person should be exposed to at age 24.
Fast-forward, the same piece of paper, once blank, was now a beautiful story, filled with pages and chapters of every interaction that she had been exposed to in her lifetime. Every experience, every moment, and every occurrence — good and bad — she had documented and composed overtime in pen, intentionally and permanently. It did not take her long after reflecting on her story to realize she was in fact, a product of her environment. Her environment impacted who she was — her character, her relationships, her perspective, and even her ambitions.
The blindfolded girl mentioned at the beginning of this article was me, and because of my environment, I am who I am today. I am a person that cares for others just as my parents cared for me. I aspired to be — and then became — the teacher that once inspired, nurtured and challenged me, to my students. I am a person that values friendship, but does not allow friendship to influence who I am. Lastly, I am a person that is incredibly fond of relationships and new experiences because they have taught me the greatest lessons, which have been valuable to my growth. In a nutshell, I am a representation of everything that I have been exposed to; my environment undoubtedly, makes me who I am.
It’s weird really, to think about how much of an influence our environment has on us. And to think, we have the same influence on the people surrounding us, our friends, our family, our colleagues, and especially our children. The African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child,” is one of the most powerful proverbs of all time. The proverb suggests that raising a child takes an entire community of different people interacting with the child for the child to experience and successfully grow in society. In addition, Bronfenbrenner and the ecological systems theory suggest that there are factors, both proximal and distant (microsystem, mesosystem, exosystem, macrosystem, and chronosystem), within the environment in which influence development. Strangely enough, yet not very surprising, given the requirements and restrictions of being a Peace Corps volunteer, I’ve found that our role at site is very similar to being a newborn child.
As Peace Corps Volunteers, we find ourselves experiencing deja vu, reliving the time when we were once blindfolded with nothing but a pen and paper in hand. Originally, I assumed that everyone experienced being blindfolded once in the lifetime, as if it was a mandatory initiation for coming into this world. However, due to my unexpected deja vu, I realize now that this initiation happens throughout life in the midst of unfamiliarity and adversity. I am sure you can image how frustrating this may be, for someone my age who thought she had it figured out. Someone who thought she no longer had to rely on her environment and the people around her to thrive in this world — boy, was I wrong.
As volunteers we rely heavily on our environment to teach us how to thrive in an unfamiliar place, whether we want to or not. Our environment plays a crucial role in our well-being as well as our physical, mental, and emotional health. Without the interaction, help, and assistance from those in our communities and the individuals surrounding us, we know that we will not be able to thrive in our new environment. When we first arrived to site, our knowledge of the culture was equivalent to that of a 6 or 7-year-old child, which is impressive being that it only took three months to teach us (kudos to Peace Corps Thailand staff). However, even with the knowledge that we have, we still required more interaction in order to successfully thrive in Thailand.
Since day one, we (volunteers) have documented our story, our experiences, our mistakes, downfalls, and our success throughout this journey. Initially, we were products of our American environment, which explains why we are so different. However, after being in Thailand for almost a year — or more — now, we can better regulate our two worlds, as we have adjusted to and learned so much from the environment surrounding us. Though the blindfold is slowly coming off and we are starting to find our way, we still depend heavily on the interactions and people around us to help navigate and show us the way.