Location: A friend’s office
As a Peace Corps Volunteer, you’re not signing up for a 40-hour workweek job, you’re signing up for a 24/7 volunteer position.
Everyday, you are representing the image of your home country as a pseudo-American ambassador.
Everyday, you are working in a new language, in a new community, language, and new life dynamics of a new country.
Everyday, you are cooking, cleaning and supporting yourself all on your own. (Don’t worry, you get a stipend.)
Subjecting yourself to these kinds conditions, some might think that you’re a bit on the crazy side.
“Why would you want to leave a comfortable life back in America? Your friends, your family, everyone and everything you need is all here! Why would you want to leave?”
It’s that idea of comfort.
Tell me more. Why is comfortable bad?
Well, it’s definitely not a bad thing, but my thoughts are:
- Comfort doesn’t induce learning.
- Comfort doesn’t force you to do anything.
- Comfort is nice. But change is better.
Being in the comfortable environment that I was, working in the Department of Education back in Hawai’i, the path ahead was a path projected. Work this many hours for this many years with this and that person and eventually you can move up. Oh! And don’t forget to talk with such-and-such to get on their good side, they’ve been working here for twenty years. Get paid, do your activities, sleep, rinse and repeat. I didn’t have to particularly innovate any part of my life because you can see the path ahead.
A walk down the road to go to the supermarket, you know what to expect: cars, traffic lights, and maybe even your friends that live close by. Compare that to a hike up a mountain, you’re thinking about mud, rocks, animals, and the sweet blissful breath of fresh air. Your focus is more in tune with each step and your mind is living in the moment.
Traveling here is like that hike, every step becomes a new opportunity to learn about the world around you. From the new words I’ve stumbled upon in both English and Lusoga, to the perspectives of my fellow Ugandan colleagues about the world, I’ve learned so much about myself and the world around me.
Back in college, I would always try to find something new, something that will get my spirit going, something that would put me on the edge of my seat like the days back in college. It wasn’t exactly the pressure of what I was supposed to do for my previous class assignment, it was the the thought of moving up to the next level. There was something that I was looking forward to, new concepts, new tools, improving and building my skills; it was having the opportunity for that next attempt at trying to do something better than before.
After college ended, it kind of just settled down. I became befuddled with the idea of the future. What was next? What was the next thing that would propel me in to a world of learning and opportunity?
Here, I’m challenged with the task of learning how to adapt to my community and trying to figure out my place here as a foreigner wanting to just fit in. It’s been difficult, sure. I’ve been overcharged in multiple situations because I was a foreigner. I’ve misunderstood my coworkers in what they tell me in English. (They called me fat, but it really just means healthy… I hope.) I’ve been overwhelmed and found myself trapped in my own home for the first few days.
However, everyday I’ve faced these kinds of challenges, I’ve been forced to overcome them. I can argue in the local language to give me a better price. I’ve learned more Ugandan-English and understood why things may have been mistranslated. Most importantly, I’ve settled in to my community and work with them and now work and speak with them on a daily basis.
After a long day’s work, you come back to your usual dinner plate. You turn on the usual shows and eventually go to sleep at your usual time of 10PM… I mean if you sleep at 10PM anyways. The routines become more and more solidified as the weeks go by. Soon the actions of washing the dishes, reaching for the remote, and shutting the lights become routine.
Eventually, though, you start to lose interest in those shows. You start to think: why was I watching those shows? I’m watching the same episodes day after day since the new season doesn’t premiere until next month!
That was my life for a bit, and yes I really did try to sleep at 10PM most times, and it was that kind of routine that I wanted to avoid. With the two points above, it all became one big, mindless cycle.
Peace Corps, it’s not for everyone.
Everyone is different, and no one should be feel compelled to volunteer for two years to break out of this kind of cycle. Comfortable lives are perfectly fine, after all, it’s what our parents would have wanted for us, isn’t it?
But my message is to step out of comfort for the reasons that are true to you.
For me, a 24/7 position is what puts me on edge, in a good way! Every aspect of my life is now under a microscope for me, and that amount of attention to detail is something that I’ve been keen on trying to master.
For others, their motivation to join Peace Corps meant working with new people and escaping the corporate world. People wanted to escape the world of America, just for a bit, to see what it’s like on the other side.
Learning is a universal privilege that I think is worth pursuing, and I’m not letting the comfort of my home stop me from learning more about the world and myself.