Spencer Swansen, 130 YinD
I was heading to the gate in my hometown airport, awake from the tremendous excitement and anxiety that comes with embarking on a 27 month adventure. At the gate standing by her suitcase was Lucy Zhao. Even though I didn’t know it back then, she would turn out to be someone whose significance goes beyond words. In truth I had thought practically nothing about other PCVs. I thought my Peace Corps experience would be about running away and trying a new culture, completely immersing myself in my future community. I was hesitant reaching out to other trainees but knowing that we were both about to embark on a major journey together motivated me to introduce myself.
I sat next to her as we waited, talking about many things I don’t remember now. We were both tired and feeling a complex cocktail of emotions. All I remember is being a somewhat extra silly/stupid version of myself (likely because of the sleep deprivation), and somehow feeling immediately comfortable acting that way around her. We sat there for some time before other Seattle PC trainees joined us, and then we were off. We flew to LA for staging and then went through a whirlwind of names and introductions. It was already overwhelming but I took comfort knowing that we were all overwhelmed. That night a big group of us, including Lucy, went out for dinner. I was already looking forward to talking with her again and we went on to talk for most of the night about the lives which we were about to leave behind. After that first night, I relished every chance I got to be with her and talk. She was someone I felt comfortable talking about anything with from the beginning.
I looked forward to every conversation, whether we were caught up in another bus ride or waiting at the airport. We stayed up late in the hotel talking about all the deepest corners of our lives. Sometimes we didn’t talk. Sometimes I would play guitar and she doodled in her notebook. We were friends more instant than the coffee here, but I couldn’t deny my feelings. I told her how I felt in the first week, and she told me she shared these feelings. We were both scared, but we consistently opened up with each other and let ourselves feel the love we both deserved.
There is no denying that being a Peace Corps volunteer is challenging physically and mentally. But there was no better person to process and push through those challenges than with Lucy. Biking with her every day for over 35 kilometers in the heat, patching flat tires in the middle of nowhere, teaching practicum in a whole new language. We dealt with so many demanding and unique challenges that most other couples never have to face and it made us stronger than I could have ever imagined. We took every chance we could get to be with each other, especially since we didn’t know where our future sites would be and how far apart from each other we might end up being.
Life during training and life at site are two completely different experiences. But no matter the experience, Lucy has been an incredible support for me. Every day during training I was excited to see her and embrace each new challenge together. At site, she gives me the perspective it takes to live as a PCV. No matter how challenging times may get, she makes everything feel ok. Our late night talks to decompress, our weekend bpai tiaos to look forward to. With her, life is more wonderful, more fulfilled and more beautiful.
One thing you realize about being a Peace Corps volunteer (or relocating in general) is that any struggles you had before aren’t going to just go away. Perhaps the most important way that Lucy has helped me is confronting my areas of weakness and making me a stronger person. Back home I had a problem with assuming the thoughts of other people, especially in regards to myself. I noticed this same problem surfacing in Thailand. I would take anything that would happen and make myself believe that it was proof someone didn’t like me, or didn’t think I was competent. When I had a meeting with my schools I thought the school directors were unhappy with me. When I started working at the government office I thought my coworkers didn’t like me. And at my rental home I wondered if my half-landlord, half-host mom wishes I wasn’t there. Every time this happens Lucy pushes me to analyze these emotions, and challenge them with facts. While I still fall victim to these thoughts, I honestly can’t imagine what my life at site would be like without her help. It must be tiring, but she never gives up and always helps me develop my self esteem and confidence.
Along these lines, we each take on many of the challenges the other person has at their site. This isn’t easy, but I’ve come to realize how beautiful this is. It’s a truth of real love. Not being afraid to take on someone else’s life as your own. It gives us both the support we need for this journey, but it also brings us more excitement about the rest of our lives than we’ve ever had. Knowing you’ll be going forward with someone who loves you and cares about you more than you can imagine changes everything, in Peace Corps and beyond. I feel so lucky that my someone is Lucy.
Lucy’s story is part of a series about “Finding Love in the Peace Corps.” Along with Lucy’s past contributions, check out previous articles in this collection.
Categories: Articles, Finding Love in the Peace Corps, Stories
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