Readjusting to American life from other volunteers

I can’t be the only one who struggles to practice patience when applying for jobs, practice being in the moment when everything moves so fast and resiliency when everything seems to be “off.” I reached out to some Peace Corps friends and a friend I made along my journey to gain insight about their struggles and observations about being back from their own service in Ethiopia. This is what they described in their own words.

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Kelsey Hill.

I taught for 2 years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Adwa, which is a town (well, small city) in the northern region of Ethiopia. I taught 9th grade English for my first year of service, but then I moved with my same students and taught 10th grade English for my second year. I taught 3 sections of around 70 students my first year, and then took on another class so I taught 4 sections my second year. I tried to run clubs, participate in 2 Peace Corps summer camps, and ran a few programs for different world themed days, such as International Day of the Girl and Malaria Month.

My favorite part of Ethiopia and my service were the coffee ceremonies and the random moments of playing with the kids in my compound and neighborhood. Adjusting back to America has been both gratifying and difficult. I have loved some parts, such as the easiness of shopping, not having to load phone cards, showers, appliances, the variety of food, and getting to see friends and family without relying on spotty internet and network. However, I have begun to realize how much excess America has and how selfish we can be. It’s been difficult to go shopping without wanting to criticize everything. It’s also difficult because I went to Peace Corps straight out of college, so I had never bought a car, rented an apartment, or paid insurance on anything. So trying to do all of that plus find a job after having lived in Ethiopia has been the biggest and most stressful part of the transition. I have always wanted to travel and see the world, and Peace Corps helped me with that a little bit. However, it gave me a bigger travel bug than I was expecting. I’m already a little bit restless to go out and across the world again. The adjustment back to reality has had it’s bumps, however I am glad to be back “home”. I miss Ethiopia and my community, but thanks to pictures and Facebook, I can relive my memories and keep in contact with my community even across the world.

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Celine reunited with Social, the incredible Public Health Manager at Chiri Health Center, run by Lalmba Association. I spent much of my year in Ethiopia working alongside her, and she was a core part of my service experience. I am so happy my mom got to meet her on our visit a year after my service ended!
I was staffed as the volunteer Public Health Director at an NGO-funded health clinic in a rural town in Southwest Ethiopia. My main duties as assigned were overseeing and supporting the local Public Health Manager. Beyond that, I also became the unofficial tech guru and worked on our old, subject-to-tantrums computers. I spent a lot of time reading in the hammock while the monkeys jumped in the trees and the rain pattered down.  I trained for a triathlon. (Also, I spent a ton of time watching tv shows with my local Peace Corps Volunteer, aka: ME!).

Leaving for Ethiopia was was one of the most freeing experiences of my life.  I had (finally) recently quit a high-stress corporate position that had become toxic for me both physically and psychologically, and was embarking on a year-long adventure of a lifetime that would put me back on the path of global health, which had been my passion in graduate school in my early twenties.

Returning to the USA was tougher than people might imagine. Explaining an experience like living in an Ethiopian town for a year is nearly impossible to do to someone who has never been there. Pace of life is majorly different. Seemingly mundane things like grocery stores can be overwhelming (case in point: trying to find simple moisturizing lotion in a Walgreens on our cross-country road trip nearly caused me to have a panic attack until my mom came over and just grabbed one).  People and their materialistic complaints can be infuriating. And you’re dealing with all these changes while trying to find a job to pay the bills, which is never any fun. But, somehow, you fall into a routine eventually. I made a big move to the west coast, and applied for jobs until my bank account nearly ran out. Luckily, I fell into the perfect position at a small organization, and started to find a steady routine. I made new friends (including RPVCs who get me!) and began feeling like a contributing member of society again after months of strange transition.

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Ashley Q.

I taught for 2 years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Woliso, Ethiopia which is a town about 2 hours away from the capital, Addis Ababa. My time as a PCV has been without a doubt one of the most adventurous and life altering experiences in my life. While I was in PC I knew that what I was doing was special, but at the same time I had days where all I wanted was to be back home in my realm of comfort. Now that I am home, and have been for the past 10 months, I find myself always looking back and remembering the friends I made, the things I saw and learned and the people I met, and honestly I miss it. Coming back to the US was hard. And it wasn’t hard because I felt overwhelmed in the grocery store, or frustrated with how wasteful we are in this country when there are real people who could live off our scraps. Sure all that was and is annoying but the real challenge for me was being surrounded by old friends and family who had not experienced what I had, and who didn’t seem to really care.

It’s hard being in America were people are very self absorbed and can barely look past their iPhones, let alone acknowledge other parts of the world and the need there. Its hard having my family and friends not understand my desire to go into the forgotten corners of the world, to meet others different than myself and to embrace their culture & ways. The people closest to me in my life think I’m a weirdo for doing Peace Corps, and now that I’m back from my service, its hard being the only “weirdo”. One piece of advice I would give future PCVs and Returning PCVs: keep the friends you’ve made in PC because sometimes they are the only people who will understand.

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Whatever the reason for being aboard, what’s true for all is that travel changes you to the core. It forces you into situations that are out of your comfort zone and ultimately, you come out a better individual. The countries that you travel to stay with you for the rest of your life and really — that’s a beautiful thing.

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