So here I am, sitting in my new room. My new room, which happens to be under my parent’s roof. As you can imagine, this is a bit uncomfortable – being a 33 year old – yet at the same time, very comfortable, and feels like home. Such is my case of being a recently returned Peace Corps volunteer (RPCV). I enjoyed sharing my experiences as a PCV, so I figure why stop now? And now that I’ve graduated from PCV to RPCV, updates could be related to anything – exciting eh?!? But I think I should start this new chapter by sharing a summary of what it feels like, for me, being a RPCV.
Peace Corps is an emotionally, psychologically, and often physically intense experience. As such, the relationships that you build during the relatively short time period tend to be intense as well. This was the hardest part of leaving Guyana and my Peace Corps cohort. In 27 months, friendships were made that will last a lifetime, and connections with host country nationals built that will withstand the challenges of distance and time. There are a lot of reasons to do Peace Corps, and most are personal to each person – but if you are thinking of serving, know that the opportunity for these rich connections is something I believe unique to Peace Corps, and a significant reason to serve in itself. Of course, the fun you can have once Peace Corps is over is pretty great too…
When it comes time for Peace Corps service to end, often volunteers find reasons to stay together, extending the inevitable separation from each other and immersion back into the “real world.” This was my case, and I have spent the last two months traveling through Brazil with friends I never wanted to say goodbye to. I could write an entire book on all the amazing things we experienced traveling through Brazil – we met some awesome people, saw some truly remarkable places, and experienced a fantastic Rio Olympics. I felt like I could stay in Brazil forever. Of course, that was not possible, so the goodbyes did come, and now here I am – alone, in my room – in my parent’s house – in Ecuador – jobless and reflecting.
To be honest, it can feel scary. It is scary being jobless, living in my parent’s house, in a country where I don’t speak the language, where work would be challenging to find even if I could. But you know what? It’s also exciting. It’s also liberating. And I would be wrong to complain or expect sympathy from anyone. I realize I made a conscious decision to be in this situation in the first place. It’s amazing the impact one decision can have on the direction of your life. My decision to do Peace Corps has altered the entire direction for me.
I believe these “direction altering” decisions are often the hardest ones, however, and correspondingly seldom made. It is not an easy decision to leave your comfort zone. Of course, this is not new information. Although not frequently made, we have always been drawn to stories of hard decisions. We like to observe other people making them. These are the themes in some of the best movies. Our favorite stories. The songs that touch us the most. We like to watch hard decisions being made, and hopefully observe the intended outcome – a happy ending. But there is a risk, and it doesn’t always work out the way we hope. Like any investment into a future outcome, direction altering decisions carry a risk – often higher the risk, higher the potential reward.
In the case of doing Peace Corps, it was gut wrenching knowing I would not see my family for months, or years. It was heart breaking leaving my best friends. It was nerve wrecking leaving a fantastic job with people I enjoyed working with. But in my experience, the more fear associated with decisions like this – the more important it is for me to look into making them. Arguably, you could say fear keeps us safe. I would argue fear keeps me trapped. I knew that in my core – at the depths of my soul – I needed to experience more of this world in a meaningful way. This was my truth. But there was immense fear in making the decision to live this truth. Of course, hindsight is 20/20, and looking back as an RPCV now, I can clearly see all I would have missed out on if I listened to this fear 27 months ago. My reward was priceless in this case. A happy ending…but it is not the end.
I believe at any given time each of us have a truth or two – a desire to do something, desire to go somewhere, desire to be someone that reflects our truth – truth’s where we know a decision is required, but fear is stopping us from doing so. For me, this type of fear is not safe. This type of fear is toxic.
And so it was. Another “direction altering” decision was up after my Peace Corps service. Do I go back to the United States, to Utah, to Salt Lake City and get back into the life I left and loved? Or do I continue my journey into the unknown? There was little “fear” associated with the idea of me going back to SLC, but the truth in my core is still present – there is still more I want to experience in this world. More places to see. More relationships to build. More ways to contribute for me to find. This may eventually take me back to Utah, or the United States, but not right now. For me, the decision was easy. At least easier than the first decision was to leave for Peace Corps. I think this is an important point to make. Leaving my comfort zone, or making “hard” decisions, seems to be getting easier. Or perhaps, these hard decisions have an added benefit. Perhaps my comfort zone is just getting bigger.
I guess that perfectly sums up what it feels like for me now as an RPCV. Peace Corps has given me a larger comfort zone. I encourage anyone reading this to think about a decision they’ve been putting off seriously looking at. Sure, it might be scary. That’s how you know it’s worth your attention. My advice: Don’t let fear stop you from new experiences. Don’t let fear limit your comfort zone.
As of now, I will spend the next few months considering my own next decisions to be made. With any luck, I will also get comfortable speaking Spanish, learn about Ecuadorian culture, and make some new Ecuadorian friends and connections in the process. And as a bonus, I get to catch up on lost time with my family and share these experiences and memories with them too! I also recognize this is a unique opportunity for me, and I am thankful for the privilege I have at the moment.
I am looking at some job opportunities with other international work, but the reality is, at this point I have no idea what I will end up doing. I have no idea where I will end up next. Scary right? Yep. Guess that means it’s worth looking into.