Though I’ve pretty much heard the full range of comments- negative to positive- about joining the Peace corps, a particular one has stuck with me: “It’s so nice that young people like you are willing to put your life on hold for 2 years to join the Peace Corps.” Every time I’ve heard it, it’s been from well-meaning friends and acquaintances, but since actually experiencing what Peace Corps is, my automatic reaction to these people is to tell them that they’re wrong.
As I’ve previously written, two years is a long time no matter where you are or what you’re doing. So when you take into consideration the distance from the known (friends, family, American culture, etc.) as well as the stereotypical Peace Corps conditions of hardship and cultural displacement, I can see how many people would arrive at the conclusion that two years spent as a Peace Corps volunteer is two years of life put on hold.
However, to those people I ask, what is life to you? If life is accumulating wealth, living in close proximity to almost any amenity or material good you may desire, or having a corporate-climbing job, then yes, volunteers put their lives on hold.
It’s only when you’re to look outside the box of a typical American life that you can understand why that statement is wrong. If to you, life is having a fulfilling career, constantly learning, living around people who love you, and having the opportunity to truly experience a culture different then your own, then Peace Corps service would simply be two more years of living a fun and fulfilling life.
Of course, I’d be lying if I said there weren’t days where I crave comforts of home and the “life” I left behind. I miss dressing up for work, running errands in my own car, eating nice food, and not being the most educated person in my town. Sometimes I love teaching simple business charlas, but sometimes it’s hard not to think about my friends back home working on fancy (to me) advertising campaigns or getting that next promotion. So on hard days in Panama, I too fall into the trap of thinking only of what I’ve left behind, and forgetting all that I’ve gained.
However, as my two-year commitment was coming to a close and I began to seriously consider my next steps, both personally and professionally, the incredible time I’ve spent as a Peace Corps volunteer really came to light. These two years, though at times long, hard, and uncomfortable, have been two of the best and most formative years of my life. I've had all of the sterotypical Peace Corps experiences such as traveling, teaching kids English, and enjoying bastante hammock time, but I've also been able to experience first hand that Peace Corps is so much more than that. I've added some seriously awesome points to my résumé and had some of the coolest experiences I could have imagined (hiking through the Darién rainforest with an indigenous guide? It was pretty fun). On top of all of that, I've made incredible connections, lifelong friendships, and precious memories.
So, that’s the main reason I’ve decided to stay a third year- because for me Peace Corps hasn’t been “putting my life on hold,” but instead living life to the fullest.