Larissa Delgado, 130 YinD
Back in 130’s PST, we had a session where each of us were given a chart named, “The Cycle of Vulnerability and Adjustment.” There, it’s lines plainly depicted the highs and lows that are common to volunteers over their two-year service. I remember one of the staff pointing to “The Honeymoon” phase at the beginning of the chart with a wide, wild smile as my friend snickered next to me saying, “They’re saying we’ll never be that happy again.” While I trusted that the chart would be fairly accurate, I definitely experienced highs when the chart commanded a low and a deep low when it insisted on us being more steady like a character in book going against the will of the author. It can’t always be perfect, but one thing that it seemed to be spot on for me was the Mid-Service Slump.
It was early January and I had just gotten back from visiting the states. I was missing home, worrying over problems at home that I was helpless against, and settling back into the difficult dance with Thai culture. All of this coincided with an out of nowhere crisis feeling of how I could possibly get through a whole other year and thus I knew what I was in the midst of: The Slump. That month seemed to go on forever and I have never called so many PCVs to vent to as much as I did that month. Through our conversations, I was reminded what we as volunteers so often forget— that there are 57 more of us sharing similar feelings, similar struggles, similar questions, wrestles, and hits. I found comfort in the fact that we were all rolling with this together and that because of my friends and my faith I could get through it.
In light of this realization, I decided to ask some fellow PCVs to reflect and share their single hardest challenge that they overcame in 2018 as well as their greatest highlight of service so far. Not only so that we could reflect on the slump, but also reflect on how much we’ve overcome and how much we’ve already accomplished in just one year. The slump may have passed, but the happiness in service is never linear. More periods of lows will come and the Mid-Service Slump will be waiting at the doorstep for the group next year, and the following year, and so forth. So, my hope is that this little article can be a reminder to all of us that anytime we’re in a low that we’re never going through any of it alone. Together, may we ride through the waves of highs and lows and the daily accomplishments and lessons that ripple throughout our service.
Matt Mikrut YinD 130
I would say that my hardest challenge in 2018 had to be feeling like I was going nowhere. Whether that be professionally or personally, there were many times where I would question what the heck I was doing here in Thailand. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, we very quickly learn that life here is different from corporate America; Results aren’t seen immediately. Many of the changes are incremental and hard to keep track of. So, the nature of Peace Corps service has made me naturally ask questions like: “Am I making a change? Would I be having a better time at home? Is anyone taking anything away from me? What is it all for?”
These questions would gnaw at me the hardest whenever I came back home from a fun time traveling and seeing friends. These times really felt like a roller coaster: from intense happiness with friends to intense despair regarding what I am doing here.
However, every time I do feel this way, I try to think about the good times I have had here. My highlights of service have always had to do with feeling connected with people. One time in my community, I went out for a walk because I felt down and lonely. I ended up walking around for 2 hours having conversations with students, friends, colleagues, and other people in my town along the way. Moments like these help me realize that the time and energy I put in does have results; It has helped me connect with people in my village. Those types of moments are the ones that keep me energized. The relationships keep me going; It really is all about people.
Larissa Delgado, YinD 130
Greatest lows: I hit my hardest low period during September – October of my first year. Progress at site seemed very slow and it was making me antsy about what I would be able to get completed. I was also very frustrated over the culture and overcome by the loneliness and isolation. Back then, I didn’t leave site much and hadn’t made a habit of reaching out to fellow volunteers. This year, I’m making sure to leave site once or twice a month and to make sure to call people every week. Since then, I’ve also found my places and people at site that I can go to make me feel at home. As a result, good did come out of my September – October low period. It was then that I discovered which fellow PCVs I felt comfortable going to and being vulnerable with. I also strengthened my relationship with God and felt His love and peace pull me through all of the circumstances. God helping me through the highs and lows of service has been a common theme since joining Peace Corps (and I even got a wave tattoo to remind me of it). In the end, I’m grateful for this deep low of September – October because of the perspective it gave me about myself at site, my PCV friends, and my faith in God.
The hardest challenge that I still struggle with is properly navigating the parts of Thai culture that I find disagreeable. I’m not the biggest fan of indirect communication, mainly, because I was raised to believe anything apart from direct communication is dishonest. Here, I’ve had to rewire my brain to understand that there are good intentions behind the people using indirect communication. It’s been difficult to take a step back and manually do that before getting angry, but I’m slowly getting better at it. I also really dislike the hierarchy that underlies the Thai social structure — especially when I’ve seen it used to express partiality. It’s part of the system and I know I can’t change the system, but it has been disheartening and hard to swallow at times.
Despite what we can or cannot change, living within Thai culture is humbling because it is teaching me to love and serve people without necessarily agreeing with all of their culture. With love as my fuel, it’s forcing me to find the parts of their culture that I do deeply appreciate.
Project-wise, my greatest achievement during my first year was my work with Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH). In August, one of our Anamai’s (Health Center) nurses and I co-facilitated the first Safe Sex activity during our Anamai’s annual SRH event at our SAO (government office). All of the students I teach attended and, later, I was able to reference that event to my students in order to gauge interest in forming an SRH/Teen Health Club. During my first year, we were only able to have one SRH/Teen Health club meeting, but with that one meeting I found out that most of the girls interested in the club came from the same school.
After my site visit in December, my program manager helped me talk to my co-teacher at that school and agreed on co-facilitating the SRH/Teen Health club at that school bi-monthly. Now, we have a consistent time, space, and a co-teacher for the club, and the nurses at my Anamai have agreed to help co-teach some of the club’s lessons when needed.
However, the greatest highlight of all that I hope will stay constant throughout my service is my ever-growing relationship with my students and my SAO Counterpart. From the very beginning, my counterpart has shown endless support to me regarding both my work and any personal issues that have come up at site. She has played the role of boss, mother, and bestfriend, so I’m forever grateful to her. Then, there’s the rapport I’ve built over a year with my students. I’m not saying that I’m bestfriends with all of them, but any time that I’ve helped them understand a point in our Life Skill class, made them laugh or smile, played with them, cracked jokes, or connected with them in any way has been magic. All of my mini-friendships with them mean so much to me and they are constant reminders of my purpose here — to love and serve them.
Daylisha Reid, YinD 130
One of the greatest challenges during my Peace Corps service thus far has been not having my love language spoken. I definitely thrive in environments where I receive words of affirmation regarding my work and work spaces where hugs or loving taps on the shoulder are okay. At times, I’ve felt as if my service has gone unnoticed or even unappreciated; Some days I’m even left wondering if I’m a burden to my community more than an actual asset.
One of my greatest successes by far has been starting my Girl Empowerment clubs at multiple schools. Through these clubs, we are able to focus on mental health, physical health, bullying between girls, and teamwork. I was so thrilled to gain my school directors’ support on this initiative and I’m looking forward to seeing how much more it will grow in the near future.
Michael Martinez, YinD 130
The hardest situation I’ve faced is struggling with the food. I was tempted to say the lack of privacy, but, in a way, feeling culturally forced to put things into your body is quite the intrusion. Coming from a lifetime struggle with body image and health complications, every time I am forcefully cared for I feel angry. Angry at my Thai friends and family, the strangers at bus stops, and co-workers for ignoring my requests. It makes me feel like a kid who is being told by my parents that they know what’s best for me before they’ve asked me what I want. It makes me question my relationships, “How can you say you care and worry about me when you are the one who is hurting me?” It makes me frustrated that when I do choose to do what makes me happy, I get looks of disappointment. I understand that they might feel a similar way about me constantly refusing their form of love, but after a year I’m worn down.
My greatest highlight has been coming back to Thailand after returning to America for a break. It was great to see friends and family. It was also incredible to be reminded of who I am without all of the needless self-muting I do in Thailand. So when I returned from America, I came back with an unapologetic attitude that has improved my mood immensely and while it has maybe caused an issue here or there, I feel as though being myself and not DIVE-ing as much as I had before has brought me closer to the people who matter the most. While I do miss some of the comforts of Western Culture, I was surprised how much I missed the daily struggles. Those same struggles I complain about on the daily add a value to my life that I didn’t appreciate until I felt their absence. I’m happy here. I’m where I want to be… I just wish I had a car.
Psian Avilés, YinD 130
Biggest Challenge: Arriving to site super excited and ready to do some BOMB YinD work only to find out my counterparts cared more about kanoms and the elderly than actually reading my project proposals.
Biggest achievement: Becoming good friends with my Co-teachers and facilitating an English Life Skills camp for 50 students together. My second biggest accomplishment of my first year was putting together Safe Spaces every Saturday. The kids come and use various forms of art as mediums of self-expression plus they watch movies, dance, and they can really just be themselves.
Skyler Matthias, YinD 130
High and Low: Language.
It’s been one of the hardest challenges of my life to learn Thai: to get comfortable speaking incorrectly every day. I had found myself, from PST up until the first 6 months at site, struggling to communicate in a very challenging language. The struggle to learn and communicate in Thai can be traced back to a lot of my other anxieties and difficulties from my first part of service.
That being said, one year in, I am now connecting, joking, and loving in a foreign language, and the journey to get to where I am today has made every moment at site just that much sweeter. Sometimes the beautiful moments in life require a little bit of pain, quite a bit of embarrassment, and a whole lot of patience.
Christalynn Hamer, TESS 130
Challenge: What made my most difficult experience challenging was feeling misunderstood and it seemed like no one was reaching out to try and understand my perspective. I am by no means entitled to that, but coming from a community with different social constructs, I didn’t understand at the time, so I was hurt, embarrassed, vulnerable, and felt very small.
Highlight: Bpit term was a GUST of fresh air not because I got to escape my community and all the nuances of site, but because it gave me the space I needed to process everything that had happened. Upon returning, it opened my eyes to see how much my teachers and I had really accomplished. All the crucial conversations, forming, and storming we experienced the term before had mellowed out into a classroom system that was normal and effective for everyone. It even showed in our students’ performances. There are a lot more smiles and much less perplexed looks that’s for sure. I was more aware of my purpose — and that made all the difference.