By Adrian King, 1st year GH
“It’s the hardest job, you’ll ever love”.
That’s one of the things we constantly hear as Peace Corps Volunteers, and I must say that I agree with it whole-heartedly. Peace Corps was nothing that I expected. It provided me with everything that has gotten me to where I am today. It was an incredible journey that took me through more ups and downs, heart wrenching turns and spirals, and more loop-de-loops than the most adrenaline pumping roller coaster on the East coast ever could. Through all of the emotions, insecurities and cultural snafus, volunteers make it out on the other side. Then, at the end of service you’re allowed to hit the Ngong (at least if you do PC in Cameroon) and make your happy way back to the U.S. — whichever way you feel like.
Making your way in the U.S. isn’t as big and scary as some may make it out to be. It is a process and it takes time to re-acclimate to American culture again and to come to terms with the idea that you aren’t the most important or “different” person in your community anymore. You’re sense of privacy is restored… maybe a little too much honestly. You’re no longer the talk of the community, and instead you blend in, as everyone now looks similar to you again. You are no longer the purple unicorn in a sea of humans, and coming to terms with that can be difficult. It’s honestly one of the strangest processes you will likely go through, but in time everything feels normal again and you deal with the struggles of daily life in the U.S. (Can we please talk about all of the options that grocery stores have and how annoying it is that employees won’t let you haggle the price of produce… how rude, I mean really though). Although considerable time is needed to re-integrate, eventually the process is complete. Yet, I still tear up a bit at the price of avocados, and I’ve been back since April 2015.
However, avocado prices and reintegration are not the subjects I want to cover. I want to empower you all (hopefully lots of you are reading) to realize the worth that you all bring to the table as Returned Peace Corps Volunteers coming to Rollins.
I want you all to think about everything that you did during your Peace Corps Service (take a minute, this can take some time)…
Now, I want you all to forget about all of the projects and deliverables that you completed throughout your service and especially all of the monitoring and evaluation that you did throughout.
(Okay, got it?)
Now, what are you left with??? Feels like nothing, huh? Kinda like “Oh, I don’t have anything to talk about… Did I actually do anything?”.
Now, I want you to really think about all of the daily interactions that you had as a volunteer. Think about all of your conversations, observations, journal writings, blog posts, angry encounters, misconstrued communication attempts, that time that you “joined the club” (I hope some of you understand this reference), and every single child that you befriended and had small interactions with. These might feel like small things that had no real purpose behind them, but through my time at Rollins thus far I’ve realized just how valuable those conversations and interactions were to me as a student and future public health professional.
I want you to think about just what you did during your Peace Corps Service. What were you actually doing? Qualitative research (Community Based Participatory Action and Research specifically). Each of those conversations you had with locals about this or that phenomena were a type of “in depth interview”. I’m sure you conducted some community needs assessment for your post; you know, one of those qualitative methods that we do as public health professionals. You find a problem and ask why it is a problem. “What has gone wrong here that makes this a problem?”. Those blog posts that you wrote throughout your service where you talk about all the strange stuff that was happening, but eventually you begin to run out of weird stuff to write about because it all seems normal at this point? Auto-ethnography. Meeting with several of the local authorities or officials to discuss some of the issues for your community? A form of focus group.
As a Peace Corps Volunteer we paint our experience as we want to and we have a wealth of experiences to draw from which prove us to be competent individuals who have so much to offer the world of work and academia. I want to leave you all with a couple tips and recommendations to consider:
- Don’t sell yourself short. You’ve got the experience. You’ve got the background. You have so much to offer if you just speak up.
- Make connections between your Peace Corps Service and your studies at Rollins. So many of the classes that you are going to take with provide you ample opportunity to share your experiences the things that you’ve done. Don’t be afraid to speak up.
- Your Peace Corps Service has likely led you here and Rollins is proud of our RPCV population. Our RPCV population has unique skills and abilities that we bring to the table, but that is only if YOU bring them to the table.
- Your PC experience is just as important as the rest of your PC colleagues. It may seem like they completed more successful projects or that they were SOOOOO integrated, but in reality you all completed the same journey just with some alterations here and there.
** Here’s another useful blog post that may be of some help: https://www.themuse.com/advice/life-after-the-peace-corps-how-to-adjust-when-youre-back-home **