How Peace Corps Has Changed Me: Uncensensored

While I was awaiting my departure, I was stuck in a rut at 21 years old, having just graduated and taking care of others children’s. I loved and to this day love children, but I didn’t know how to get into the next step and start working in health. Honestly, I wanted out of working with children. Ironically, I became an English teacher to high school students for the next two years. Why? Because I could. I could make a difference with young men and women while working on health projects on the side.

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During my last 15 months, I have witnessed many changes, both within and outside myself. I thought it would be easy enough to speak on these due to the fact that I am an introvert at heart and therefore, spend a lot of time reflecting, but sitting here and trying to write all the ways Peace Corps has changed me, alongside with a story, is more difficult than expected. Some positive changes that I’ve seen: I’m more patient, resilient, confident, better communicator, able to adapt quicker, can see the humor in just about anything and most importantly, I feel even more carefree. Some negative changes: skepticism, grown cold towards beggars on the streets and judgmental. While both are an integral part of who I am, I would like to think that the pros outweigh the cons.

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With my mom and brother in D.C. My last meal and good cry in the States.

Peace Corps has overall taught me how to communicate the same information in multiple ways. When I first started doing teacher training, I wanted to focus on a maximum of 10 teachers (each with a partner in each department) and during that period of setting up the program, I got asked about twice a day why it was a small amount of people and why couldn’t I have the training on one day with all the teachers. I had to explain each day that it just would not work for many reasons. The first reason was that it it is physically impossible to schedule all 50 teachers on one time. The second reason was that the only way to have all 50 some teachers doing the training is if teachers were willing to come during the weekend, but because I am here voluntarily, I cannot provide per diem. Therefore, it would be on their own dime and time. However, I could provide CPD (Continuous Professional Development hours) and a certificate. The last reason on why it couldn’t be one day is because just how students do not take their exams in one day and need to be accessed over a period of months, the same goes for teachers. Eventually, after many explanations it began to make sense. All I could do was laugh because my explanation by the end was similar to the beginning, but the main difference was the wording.

When I was growing up and before my mother got re-married, she worked multiple jobs to keep her 3 children in a bilingual school in Honduras and pay the bills. For years, my mother did her best and even after my stepfather and her divorced, my mother is killing it present day. My mother is the epitome of what can happen with hard work and she is the happiest I have ever seen her. As a skeptic, it is physically impossible for me to believe now at 23, that begging on the street is the only way to go. The internet describes skeptics as using their critical thinking before believing what one is told. Before arriving in Ethiopia and having lived in Honduras for 8 years, I felt something when I saw beggers of all genders, shapes and sizes but since then, that “feeling” has stopped. If anything, when I see beggars, especially mothers on the street approach what they perceive a “white” woman, I become angry. If you are not able to feed, support and clothe your children, why are you having more children? Why do you use your children as a bargaining chip? Do you think because I see a child, I am even more tempted to give money? Perhaps that makes me privileged or judgmental. Ethiopia has hardened me, made me angrier at the inability of society to make changes and in many ways, it has changed me to the core. Having been extremely emotional before coming to Ethiopia to only crying when it’s really deserved, I least expected this out of my Peace Corps Service.

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With my sis-in-law Emily, Director of Staging & Staff Development at my Staging in D.C., June 2014.

Before joining Peace Corps, I never thought that I would become this confident in myself and in my abilities. To being able to stand up for myself without crying when I’m being belittled for not being able to fix a computer, to having conversations with strangers and being able to say “no, thank you” when being asked for my number, to applying in the near future to my dream job (CDC) and being content with what I have to offer, and even to feeling comfortable in uncertainty in all the wonderful and terrible things the future has for me, I have the Peace Corps to thank for that.

After living and working for so long in a developing country, it’s easy to get discouraged. And after getting involved with countless projects and watching them fail time after time, one starts to wonder if there’s any point. While I could point to some small accomplishments by the end of my first year and continue into my second year, my Peace Corps service has been filled with far more trials and errors than success stories. And that is the nature of the beast. Hopefully, if we try 100 different projects in 100 different ways, something will stick, something will work and someone will benefit.

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. John Tierney says:

    You will return to a smaller America which, you will find out, is ignorant of things about which you’ve become passionate.
    bravo! Having changed Ethiopia a little bit, you get to the big job. Changing us!

    Sent from my iPad
    Run to
    >

    Like

  2. Anne Thureson says:

    Andrea;
    This is a very moving account. Few of us ever get to experience such a range of cultures and attitudes as we form our own ideas.
    Anne

    Like

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