Thursday, June 11, 2015

2 Years in the Peace Corps

Two years.  24 months. 104 weeks. 730 days... And that's not counting the 2-3 months on on-site training. 

The potentially daunting time commitment is what puts many people off of Peace Corps service, so it makes sense that one of the most common questions I’m asked is, “What is two years in the Peace Corps really like?”

Since this week marks two years in Panama for me, I figured that it's finally a good time to put it into words.

In two years, your friends back home will pass many of life’s milestones: getting engaged, married, and having babies.  Some will get fancy-sounding promotions and begin (or continue) climbing the corporate ladder.  You, on the other hand, will celebrate small successes like actually getting people to come to the event you’ve spent weeks planning, convincing village members that no, you don’t want to get married yet and that’s okay, and will have a different type of milestone: the number of months you can spend parasite free. 

New technologies will be invented (You won’t know how to use them), new movies will be released (You only know them by their foreign titles), and the billboard top 100 will constantly be refreshed by new music (If you’ve had some time in the capital city, you may have heard of about 10 of them). 

You may struggle to stay in contact with all of your American friends and begin to drift apart from some of them.  You will bond with Peace Corps friends over frustrations only they can understand and who pooped their pants first.  Both groups of friends will remain precious and important to you. 

In two years you will never stop learning.  You will learn a new language (or two), a new culture, and how to work in this new, very different environment.  Like a child, you will relearn simple skills like how to take care of yourself without the amenities or products you’re used to.  You might begin washing clothes by hand, group bathing (fully clothed) in the creek, and/or cooking without a microwave.

You’ll make yourself a home in a place that once felt so foreign, and then bring little bits of your old home to your new one.  Your American headlamp will illuminate your locally made table as you try new foods and stay up late reading in English (for entertainment) or your new language (for learning). 

Two years is a good amount of time to explore a new place, but you'll still feel rushed to do all of the things you had in mind when you came to country.  You will become familiar with your local town and surrounding areas, and many people may even recognize you.  Eventually they will make the change from “Mira, gringa!” to chatting with you about Peace Corps and why you wanted to spend two years with them. 

Two years is too long and too short.  Some days I literally count the days until it’s time to leave, while on many others I’m appalled that a full two years has come and gone.  I feel like I’ve just hit the sweet spot in trust built with community members, confidence in the local language and work projects.  

Two years is up?  Finally.  Two years is up?  I think I may extend.

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