One year ago today I, along with 76 other Peace Corps Trainees (we were not sworn in as Volunteers until June 18), stepped off the plane into Ukraine, and into the next phase of our lives. None of us knew what to expect – all we knew was that we had signed up to serve in a capacity greater than ourselves for 27 months, including training. Not everyone made it through the training, and not everyone has made it to the one-year mark. Life happens, people determine that this was not the best choice for them at this time in their lives, and a multitude of other reasons. That’s okay. The people who left are not better or worse than those of us who have stayed – it just was not the right “fit” for them. They have returned to the United States and gotten married, found employment, and done what is right for them.
But most of us have stayed. Out of the 77 who arrived, I believe 71 of us are still here – that is a pretty low turnover rate. We have people who came right out of college, and people who are retired, and people like me, who are somewhere in the middle (though there are not many of us). We are Community Developers and Youth Developers (those who came as part of Group 38). We have different ethnicities, education, religions, and come from different parts of the United States. We are all representatives of the U.S., each in our own way, and do our best to help the communities in which we live and work, and to learn from people here.
As a friend said to me this morning that sometimes it seems like yesterday, and sometimes like five years ago that we arrived. The time seems to have gone by quickly, yet so much has happened. If you read my blog, you have kept up on my experiences and some of my reflections. As I have mentioned before, because my blog is open, I don’t always say everything. It would not be right to say everything, because things can be taken out of context. So I hold back on the days where this country really frustrates me because I would not want to misrepresent things merely because I have had a bad day.
However, looking back through my blog I already see a progression, one which I hope continues. Living here changes a person. Whether a person thinks it will happen or not, it does, and the person is never quite the same for having had the experience of serving in Peace Corps and living in a country that is so very different from the United States. It makes you think about things differently and it makes you see things differently. You cannot help but to change, grow, develop – even the people who thought they were “too old” to do so.
At the moment, I am still trying to live in the “now” and not worry so much about what happens after Peace Corps. Some days I am more successful at it than others. I know what I want to happen, where I want to live, and what I want to do, for the first time in my life. But I am not there yet – I still have another 15 months here. Sometimes I wonder what I can accomplish, and other times hope to still do a lot.
As I write this, it is sunny and warm outside – so very different than my last post. I am finally not wearing a turtleneck and sweater every day, and walked home after work yesterday because it was nice enough to do so. Somehow, the advent of Spring seems appropriate – Spring is about new beginnings, and for me, so is Peace Corps. That is why my blog is called “Hitting the Reset Button” – after 40 years, 20 of which I spent not doing what I wanted to do and was never where I wanted to be, right now, for the first time in my life, I am exactly where I want to be, and doing maybe not exactly what I want to do, but certainly not working in a job that I hate. The old Peace Corps advertising tag line read “The Toughest Job You’ll Ever Love.” After a year here, I can understand why. It’s not easy, but Peace Corps is not about easy – it’s about giving of yourself to something bigger than yourself.
There’s something about hitting the one-year mark that feels similar to when I hit a certain age. You feel more comfortable in your surroundings, in your work, in yourself, but realize that life is about change and that tomorrow may be entirely different. But that’s okay, because, somehow, knowing I’ve already made it through a year here reassures me that the next one will somehow be easier.
On a side note – I remember when I was still a Nominee (after getting interviewed, you may get nominated, then you go through the approval process, then you get your invite, then you come and are a trainee), and my nomination was for Business Advising in Francophone Africa, one man, who did not know me very well, kept asking “So when are you going to Angola, anyway?” He never paid attention when I explained that I was nominated, and did not know where I was going, and it may turn out to be a different place than my nomination (I am now grateful that I kept that in mind, as so many people get hung up on their nomination that when it changes, they become upset). At one point he looked at me and said “I give you six months.” Well, I admit that I was upset – I mean, who did he think he was, this man, who did not even know me, to say such a thing?
But you know what? I’ve proven him wrong. I have to admit, it feels good to do so. And by the way, I stopped talking to him – he was no friend of mine anyway. All of the people who matter are those who believe in and support me.
Happy Anniversary to me and all of Peace Corps Ukraine Group 38!