Next stop: Thailand!

The world only exists in your eyes – your conception of it. You can make it as big or as small as you want to.
– F. Scott Fitzgerald
When I was 16 a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV), who was also an Alumna of my high school, came back to give a talk about her experience living in Togo. Sitting in the same chair where I willed myself to understand equations during Algebra class each week, I was introduced to an idea that would stick with me for almost a decade: the Peace Corps.
On March 1, 1961, President Kennedy established the Peace Corps with a desire to ‘promote word peace and friendship by fulfilling three goals:
  1. To help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained Volunteers.
  2. To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
  3. To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.’

Since 1961, nearly 220,000 Americans have served in 141 countries. Cool, right? I used to poke around the website all the time, reading blogs and wondering about applying. They recommend having a bachelors degree so I didn’t apply after high school. I went to more RPCV talks and started the application process after I graduated from Carnegie Mellon, but ultimately decided I still didn’t have enough experience. Plus, DC was calling my name. Now, 10 years after hearing that first RPCV speak, I decided it was time. I applied, and about 5 months ago, I accepted an invitation to serve in Thailand as a Peace Corps Volunteer for 27 months starting in January 2017.

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I had several legal and medical hoops to jump through before officially being cleared to go, so I hesitated to post publicly about my plans. Although, if I’m being honest, some of my hesitation came from the fear that maybe Peace Corps is just glorified voluntourism. For the last few months, while I was applying, interviewing, being accepted, and beginning the mountains of paperwork, I was working on clarifying my own beliefs and motivations for taking this step.

I love to travel. Being in new places and meeting new people comes naturally for me, but somewhere along the way I started to believe that the travel I’ve done, and the way I’ve chosen to live my life is somehow less “responsible” than my friends scattered around the globe working 9 to 5, getting married, and having babies. My life of travel and adventure is not my way of delaying adolescence. I am not avoiding commitment (at least not fully). In reality, my decision to join the Peace Corps is probably the most serious commitment I’ve ever made; 27 months in a new country is no joke and I’m going all in.

I’m so grateful for my people. The ones who have continually encouraged me to do me. Their voices ring louder than the lies that roll through my mind telling me to keep my world small. To stay. To just be content. Except…that isn’t what I actually want right now. I’m coming to realize that my life decisions have to look different, because they are based on my desire to pursue a career in development. Which means, on most occasions, making some life-altering decisions. I want to pursue knowing and understanding this world full of fascinating people and places. It’s what brings me joy. It’s who I am.

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The Peace Corps is not an opportunity for me to go “save” a community. I’m not there to volunteer doing tasks that the locals could do way better than me. I won’t be laying on a beach soaking up the sun every day. This is not vacation. Being a Peace Corps volunteer doesn’t mean enlightening, rescuing, revolutionizing, or otherwise changing these communities. That would imply that these communities need those things…and they don’t. If there is one thing my travels have taught me, it’s that people are resilient and they are capable. When they need something they don’t have, they find a way. The Peace Corps has tried to be one way.

Over the last several decades, the Peace Corps has created partnerships with countries around the world by asking: “What need do you have that we could fill?” Americans able to do that job will fill that need, while also learning about your culture. In turn, you will learn about America. It’s my favorite kind of development. The kind that says, “Hi, I’m here to get to know you and share my knowledge”. Not “Hi, I’m here to see what you’re doing wrong and fix it”. Volunteers can be ill-equipped or under prepared. I know the Peace Corps is not perfect and not easy – but I’d challenge you to show me one development organization that is. Development is full of contradictions (“SO IS INDEPENDENCE!” shout-out to the Hamilton buffs out there), but it’s also full of understanding, and community, and progress.

So I’ll be sharing what I know, investing in youth, and most importantly I’ll be cultivating friendships – because that is what the Peace Corps means to me: friendship, cultural exchange, growth, assisting, and experiencing. I can’t wait for it to begin.

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