When I share with someone that I've chosen to join Peace Corps, I get one of two reactions:
1. "OHMYGOD, isn't that like TWO YEARS of your life?" This exclamation is often accompanied by a facial expression of woe and angst, not unlike someone who has just eaten something that has recently turned. This is usually the comment made by someone around my age.
2. "Oh wow, that is so cool. I'm really excited/I really admire that you're doing that." This is usually said by someone who is not a member of my generation, or who is a really close friend and knows me well.
Having written this out, I feel like these responses to my decision are a pretty accurate timeline of my own feelings about Peace Corps.
At the end of last semester I received my nomination to serve. At first I was really excited, and then lurking worry and fears of the unknown starting to sneak their way into my subconscious, manifesting themselves as procrastination in submitting my fingerprint paperwork. I eventually did submit just before Christmas having convinced myself that I would regret not at least taking a few more steps in the application process. This is probably one of the finer decisions I have made in life.
Over Christmas break I traveled home to Homer to visit with my family, work on my thesis, and decide what to do with my future (not to reach for melodrama, or anything). Homer is a small town full of lots of people I respect, love, and admire, as well as the place I grew up. I felt certain that by seeking the advice and/or wisdom (not always the same thing) of people who have already had the opportunity to make big, life-altering decisions (and thus could look back on them and reflect), I would be able to make my decision. To Peace Corps, or not to Peace Corps?
Nearly every adult I spoke with about my Peace Corps decision encouraged me without reservation to pursue that unknown horizon (Reaction #2). They spoke of looking back on their own lives to places where they met a fork in the road, and now with near unanimity wish that had taken that less trodden path. My biggest hang up was money, though it shames me to say it out loud. I have always prided myself in not being a consumer, not letting things or stuff tie me down or control my life. I never appreciated that instead of stuff, I was consumed by the need to horde money for my future's sake. Every single adult assured me that there is always time to make money, and really, money doesn't make your world go 'round. Certainly it is important, and I know there are certain things I want to buy that will require some savings and a steady job, but those things are worth delaying for something like Peace Corps.
Making the decision to let go of monetary wealth for the next two years was really difficult for me, but through supportive parents and the advice of many wonderful people, I've come to the point where I can put it out of my mind for the sake of better things that I'm sure will make me poorer monetarily speaking, but much richer in life. Wealth, after all, is just what you make of it.
Hooray for personal growth!
But, I don't want to leave out those who still are in the 1st category of response. So, I present now some thoughts on the most common questions or concerns I get concerning Peace Corps.
Q: That's like TWO YEARS of your LIFE! (concerns about commitment)
A: Yes, it is. However, it's not like I wouldn't be living those two years of my life anyway, right? You have to live them somewhere, and I can either live them in a way where that it is easy to predict my day-to-day, or in a way that it is not.
Q: Oooh...doesn't that mean you have to live with no running water/electricity/indoor plumbing/car/etc?
A: Yes, it does. But you know what? The lack of conveniences really doesn't bother me in any significant way. Yes, I love hot showers and all of the joys of plumbing, but they aren't huge priorities for me. I've lived without them before, and I'm happy to do it again.
Q: What if you get sick/robbed/homesick/lonely?
A: I fully expect all of thing to happen, probably all at once and probably more than once. And it will be miserable and without a doubt, there will be moments where I want nothing more than to catch the next donkey cart outta there. But bad things happen to people everywhere, all the time. They happen to me living here in Fairbanks (one of the nation's leading rape/violence against women communities), and I deal with them. They will probably happen to me there, and I will deal with them there, too.
Q: Oh, so you're out to go save the world/postpone adulthood/some other irresponsible choice? That probably won't look too hot on a resume.
A: Oooh, judgy-judgy! I am joining Peace Corps for my reasons, and my reasons alone. They consist of pursuing what I find to be personally fulfilling, important, and meaningful, as well as how I see my own place within the world and life. I love Peace Corps tag line: Life is calling. How far will you go? It's such a challenge to get out there! To see the world for what it is instead of what it is portrayed to be! I love that, and want to be part of it. Peace Corps is not perfect in any way (is anything?), but they offer an opportunity to serve myself, my country, and maybe in some small way, someone else who shares in my fellow humanity. I think that in itself is cause enough for anyone.
And no, I would dare to disagree that joining Peace Corps is "postponing" anything, except perhaps a fat bank account. It has taken me a lot of thought and courage to apply and pursue Peace Corps, and if anything, I see it as a remarkable testament to my character, perseverance, and ability to withstand nearly anything. Also, perhaps it demonstrates a marked tolerance for misery, which is just fine with me. Putting a successful Peace Corps tour on my resume will be a very proud moment in my life, and honestly, would I even want to work for someone who didn't agree?
Q: Oooh...aren't you worried about being a woman in ______(country)? Don't they, like, not have any rights there?
A: Actually, Morocco, a predominately Islamic nation, is my first choice for Peace Corps Placement. I grew up in a very progressive, feminist household with a father who always pushed my sister and I to persevere and a mother who models strong feminist qualities mixed with compassion and kindness. I live in a country where I can vote, drive, marry for love, and do a thousand other things that women elsewhere in the world may not enjoy. That's a hard pill for me to swallow, but I have learned that no book or lecture or other source of information can help you understand someone else's life better than taking part in their world yourself. Thus, I would love to live somewhere where I too am restricted by my gender (or skin color) so that I can understand what that life is like, and the desires of those who live it.
Q: Oh wow, Peace Corps? I could never do that.
A: Yes. you. could. It is so utterly loathsome to hear people downplay their own ability to adapt, change, and remain resilient against the unknown. Women, especially, seem to always discount their own strengths and ability to do something hard. If you are reading this blog and contemplating your own application to Peace Corps, I would urge you to dismiss outright those fears of what is unknown or unfamiliar. Do not be chained by your own trepidations, or shy away from discomfort. If Peace Corps (or anything in life) is something you feel calling to you, whispering in your ears with an unheard voice of temptation, then take those reins! Seek that far horizon and do not stop until you find whatever it is that drives you. For me, Peace Corps is the hand that will open many doors I could never have opened or perhaps even dreamt of myself. Yes, I feel fear, and yes, I feel anxiety. But everything that may ever be gained by stepping into the chasm that is the unseen future is worth the immense challenge it is to rise above those concerns. It is a process. It will take time and thought and your utmost concentration. It will require you to confront all that is frightening in your life and stare it down until it withers at your feet like a poisonous vine, ripped from the ground. But you can do it, and when you land on that new shore, I will see you there.