Ali Talwar, 130 TESS
Everyone seems to be aware that Peace Corps “isn’t easy.” But, what does that mean!? Before I came here, people told me this all the time. It was even warned against in my interview. In my head though, this was no big deal. I had been an athlete, daughter of military parents and faced so many other “not-easy” tasks before; so surely, I could handle one more. However, I don’t think I truly grasped how difficult this could be until I got here. So, I’d like to put some meaning behind this phrase by attempting to elaborate. *Keep in mind each volunteer has different struggles*
Loneliness. I may be constantly surrounded by other people, but there’s a lack of connection since I can only speak so much Thai and the people in my village don’t speak English. I only get to know people on a surface level and have a lack of true friendships because of this. Constantly standing out as a foreigner doesn’t help me to feel any more a part of the community. Everyone in my community is incredibly nice to me because I’m the foreigner, but at the same time, part of me just wants to be treated like one of them.
Cultural differences. Coming from America, we have a set culture that’s imbedded into us from the time we’re born (these may vary by ethnicity, but altogether, there are similarities we share as a nation). Then, when you pick up and move halfway across the world, you’re living in a country with its own cultural norms. As the foreigner, it’s only fair that I have to mold to Thai culture, but wow, does it hurt every fiber of my being sometimes. I’ve always been stubborn, and someone telling me to change or that something I’m doing isn’t proper, makes something inside of me react like a child throwing a temper tantrum. I hate it, but I have to agree to change or risk offending everyone around me.
Lack of freedom. In America, the second we turn 16 years old and get a license, we experience this sense of freedom. You become independent with the ability to go off on our own to run errands and meet friends. Granted most 16-year-olds are not truly free, but usually by 18 years old we are. Becoming a Peace Corps volunteer has thrown me back to feeling like before I turned 16 years old. My main form of transportation is a bicycle. I essentially have a curfew, and I have so many rules I have to follow. I’ve become a 23-year-old middle schooler.
People moving on. I know it may be hard to believe, but people back home keep moving on with their lives while I’m away. What’s up with that!? In my head, I knew these things would happen, but they seem to be happening so frequently and so fast. People have gotten engaged, married and had children. They’ve changed jobs, moved and found new friends. Some have even died. Everything seems so much harder to comprehend from thousands of miles away. To me, everyone is frozen in time back home just waiting for me to come back and pick up where I left off. But, when these changes occur, I realize that’s not the case.
Losing contact. Going hand-in-hand with people moving on, it’s easy to fall out of touch with people when you don’t see them for two years. A really hard part of this experience is losing contact with friends that used to be so dear to me. Granted we all have those friends we can go ages without seeing and then pick right back up like we were never apart. The issue for me has been with those who I know this won’t happen with – the ones that I considered to be my best friends that I no longer hear from. It breaks my heart.
Now, the purpose of writing this piece isn’t for people to feel sorry for Peace Corps volunteers, but instead to help them understand us more. There is a reason they don’t just say “Peace Corps is impossible.” There are easy parts to being a Peace Corps volunteer: falling in love with my students, watching them grow, bonding with my yai (host grandmother), receiving so much love just for being present, getting the chance to become a more worldly individual, finding myself without even knowing I was lost. All of these, and more, are the reasons why we continue to volunteer and are thankful for the experience at the end of our two years.
Thank you, great article!!! My son is in your group and this helps understand!!!