Written March 19, 2017.
About this time last year, I had begun to obsessively look for and read anything about Moldova and especially about the Peace Corps in Moldova that I could get my hands on. I was close to receiving my medical clearance and pretty much everything else was set, so I needed to start actually preparing for my Peace Corps adventure. I found a handful of blogs that had been written by current and former Peace Corps volunteers over the past several years that I found really helpful. They gave me a peek at what my life might look like in Moldova. The truth is that every single volunteer has a different experience, for a variety of reasons. We are different people, we are placed in different communities and different work places, and we simply experience different things. Of course, there are also things that are common to all or most voluteers’ experiences as well. While I can only speak from my experience here in Moldova, this advice should apply to the Peace Corps life in other parts of the world as well.
My best advice:
- The Peace Corps will tell you over and over not to compare your service to anyone else’s. This can be really hard at times, but it is spot-on advice. Remember that while we are all in the same country and may be doing similar work, every situation, placement, and experience is different and that is absolutely okay. We are all working to make our communities better places and improve skills. Whether you are involved in tons of projects or not, have lots of local friends or not, or feel like you are making a difference or not, you are doing what you’re here for. Encourage and support your fellow volunteers and the work they do, but don’t compare.
- Don’t worry too much about packing. This was the thing I was most concerned about in the months before leaving the US. While it’s important, it’ll most likely be okay. Read the packing lists, listen to advice from current volunteers, and then bring whatever you think you’ll need. The packing lists and advice are helpful, but we are all different people and we all need/want different things, so use them as a starting place, not a “this is what you must bring” list. Also realize that there is a pretty good chance that you will either lose or gain weight. I brought three pairs of pants and I no longer have a single pair that fits. It’s normal, it’s happened to most of us, and you’ll make it work.
- Come with no expectations. I know, this isn’t really possible. But whatever you think service/life will be like here, throw it out the window and try to keep your mind open. It’s impossible to know quite what life will be like here until you are here. Even during PST (pre-service training) you will only have a sliver of an idea what life at your permanent sites will be like. Come with no to little expectations and enjoy every minute of figuring it all out once you’re here.
- Learn how to both say “yes” and say “no”. Most of us have struggled with either one or the other. When it comes to experiences, try to always say “yes”. If your host mom wants you to travel half the day to go visit a friend or family member and you’re not busy with actual work, say yes, even if you’d rather stay home and sleep or catch up with friends and family back home. If your students or work colleagues invite you to something, go. If you are an education volunteer and there is an event at the school for students, you are welcome even if no one specifically tells you or asks you to go. Your students will notice you came and so will the other teachers and administrators at the school. On the opposite end, it’s okay to say “no” to projects you aren’t passionate about or you don’t feel you have time for. It’s okay to say “no” to work beyond what is required and you feel comfortable doing. Just be sure to ask yourself if you are avoiding something because it’ll require you to get out of your comfort zone or because you really feel you are not qualified/don’t have time/can’t handle yet another thing. Your mental and emotional health is important.
- Embrace your life and experience here, even when things get weird or unusual or you have no idea what’s going on (which will probably be a lot of time!). Enjoy the little things and celebrate even the very smallest of victories. When things feel tough, look around you and see the beauty. Peace Corps service can be a bit of a roller coaster of a ride, but there is so much to be thankful for and to enjoy. The weird and occasionally slightly uncomfortable moments will be some of your best memories and greatest stories.
- At the end of the day, the most important thing is people. Your work in improving teaching methodologies or management techniques or whatever else your job entails is important. But even more important is the relationships you build with other people. Peace Corps is about capacity building and relationship building. This part can take time, but if you are frustrated, focus on what will help you build better relationships with the people around you. If you are an educator, how can you build a better relationship with your students, or even just one student? How can you build a better relationship with your work partner? How can you build a better relationship with your host mom or host dad or your neighbor? I received one of the best compliments yesterday from a teacher that observed my partner and I for an entire day at school: she told me that my partner teacher seems happier since we started working together. Out of all the things she noticed in the day, this is what stood out to her.
So, future volunteers, welcome to the Peace Corps Community! I wish you the best of luck and happiness, and hope you have a wonderful adventure!