A story came up on my facebook recently, a girl congratulating her sister for completing her Peace Corps service. Someone commented and said “what a fun and gratifying experience,” and it took a whole lot of will power NOT to contradict a total stranger on the internet.
There are a lot of words I would use to describe the Peace Corps experience, but “fun” is not at the top of the list. And a lot of the time, either is “gratifying.” I know you all see pictures of me in Samoa, and think that it is all just drinking coconuts and sitting on the beach. And I’m not going to lie, that is part of it. But what you might not understand is how much of a release that is. Village and school life is hard to say the least.
I think a lot of people think about the Peace Corps and picture Bono surrounded by a bunch of laughing African children and assume that is what life is like for 2 years. I’m sorry to be the one to burst your bubble, but…it’s not. The majority of my time is spent in the nitty gritty daily life. And in the future, when someone asks me “how was the Peace Corps?” I can guarantee that “fun” will not be the word I use.
Challenging. Messy. Frustrating. Never-ending. But also eye-opening. Heart-breaking. Life-changing. Joyful. Powerful. How is it possible to sum up 2 years of your life in just a few words? The word changes based on the moment in which you ask me.
The Peace Corps motto rings true: this truly is the hardest job I will ever love. Because at the end of the day, despite everything I go through, I love it. I know I don’t have a lot of experience in the job world yet, but I have a very hard time believing that anything I do in the rest of my life will be as formative as these 2 years in the Peace Corps. My service has pushed me to my limits, tested me in more ways than I thought would be possible. It has also expanded and changed my perspective of the world. It has opened my eyes to the benefits and difficulties that exist in all cultures and countries, including the United States. When I am back in America, I have no doubt that I will look back on this experience with rose-colored glasses. But even then, when everything I remember is great and wonderful, the word I use to describe it will not be “fun.”
“Fun” is for week long vacations. “Fun” is for a weekend away with friends and family. “Fun” is even for those few hours spent talking to friends on a random day. But the Peace Corps is so much more than that. The Peace Corps is about presenting America in a positive way, all the while respecting the local culture and customs. It is about integrating into the daily life while keeping your American identity. You will ask yourself many complex life questions: “who am I?” and “what am I doing here?” And many days, there will be no answers. But there are also those shining moments when everything becomes clear, and you suddenly know with confidence. The Peace Corps is full 2 years of transition that you willingly enter into: a time of uncertainty, unfamiliarity, and questioning. Everyone faces these questions throughout their lives, but the Peace Corps makes you face them when you are down and vulnerable, with nothing familiar to turn to. If you can get through that, everything else is a piece of cake.
I think the most important question, therefore, to ask is not “how was the Peace Corps?” but “would you choose to do it again?” That, at least, is a one-word answer.