Today is the 55th Anniversary of when President John F. Kennedy signed Executive Order 10924 to establish the Peace Corps. I started my own Peace Corps service in West Africa 44 years later.
I spent two years living and working with the local people in my country of service. I had no electricity, no running water, and participated in every day life as much as possible. Peace Corps taught me many things, and even 10 years later, I bring those strengths to my current position as a Foreign Service Officer.
A few things that Peace Corps taught me:
- Patience: I learned that things don’t always happen when we want them to, and I learned the power of waiting. I could spend an entire day just trying to get the 100 km to my site from the capital city, and still not make it there by the end of the day. I learned that different cultures have different time schedules. If I had a 10 am meeting, maybe people would show up by noon. Maybe 2pm. I can still go into a basically inert state, content to be lost within my own thoughts as I wait for the next event to happen.
- Food un-pickyness: Before Peace Corps, I was an extremely picky eater. Amazing how hunger can change ones outlook on what one will try. I can eat almost anything if I have to, whether to be polite or for survival. I still draw the line at peas though…
- Laughter: I learned to laugh at myself and to find joy in daily small accomplishments. While not every day was a delight in my community, I was astonished at the every day smiles and laughter that could come from simple activities. Pounding millet for hours on end could be made more bearable with songs and gossip. Moonlit nights could be spent dancing under starry skies.
- Self-sufficiency: I know now that I can go anywhere, set up a new life, and be comfortable anywhere I am. Whether that be in the middle of the rainforest, taking baths in the river, or near the Sahara desert, riding a camel to the local market. Or in a big city like Dhaka (I hope!). I am confident in my ability to just get out there, and to stand up for myself when I need to.
- Language skills: I feel that I am better able to deconstruct a language, having learned my country of service’s local tongue. I am unafraid to ask questions if I don’t understand, and am confident that even though I might butcher a language, I can get my point across. Plus, I’m pretty good at pantomiming now!
- Culture adaptation: I learned to connect with people who have very different backgrounds than my own, and to search out ways to bond, regardless of race, religion or station in life.
RPCVS@State made a video with various employees wishing Happy Birthday to Peace Corps in their country of service’s languages. Check it out here!
Thank you, Peace Corps, for everything you did for me!! I would not be where I am without my experience and the wonderful people I met. It made me a better, stronger person and I know it does the same for thousands of others out there.