The myth of the Peace Corps Volunteer

You know the type. Likes to rock climb and trail run. Either worked for an NGO or interned with one. Aspires to open their own charter school or write grants for underserved communities or organize street protests or definitely participate in some kind of vegan baking championship. Gets up early and enjoys smoothies with greens but doesn’t actually and will never tell you otherwise.

This person is THE do-gooder, classic as they come. Selfless. Energetic. Maybe they lived in a foreign country you’ve never heard of. Maybe they speak 4 languages and act humble about it. Maybe they have a heart of gold and have never done a damn thing wrong in their entire life.

One thing is certain: this is a Peace Corps Volunteer. Definitely.

(Okay so in the spirit of honesty, I must confess that I’m working through some feelings about all of this.)

The person I’ve described above simply DOES NOT EXIST.

Peace Corps Volunteers are not a monolith. We are as varied and nuanced as any other group of people. I have yet to meet a volunteer exactly like another and I have yet to meet a single volunteer who is perfect. We are a very mortal group of folks.

And speaking for myself here, I would like to offer instead that as a PCV, I am working on myself just like the rest of humanity. Living in a different country does not mean that I have any idea what I’m doing– in fact, it means I often have way less of an idea than I might if I were back home in Colorado. I am straight up clueless half of the time and the other half, I am improvising.

Yet this myth of the Peace Corps Volunteer floats above me and interrupts me daily. I know what people back home think of the PCV– someone who is noble and energetic and fun. And I often find myself trying to measure up to this more athletic, more social and more skilled version of myself. My life is flavored by this unfair comparison and you know what? Enough is enough.

Here is to my fellow PCVs serving near and far, who are nothing like you’ve ever imagined and some of the most resilient people I’ve ever met–

To those of us who watch too much Netflix,
to those of us who take “sick days” to self care,
to those of us who listen to podcasts to hear someone speaking English,
to those of us who crave-and-subsequently-binge-eat junk food,
to those of us who cry from frustration/anger/loneliness,
to those of us whose secondary projects have sputtered and died,
to those of us who left important people back home,
to those of us who don’t feel like they look sexy/attractive anymore,
to those of us who are changing in ways they can’t describe–

I see you and I’m rooting for you.

They say that this is the hardest job you’ll ever love.

I feel like the more apt saying would be: “This is the hardest job you’ll never be able to explain.”

su su



2 thoughts on “The myth of the Peace Corps Volunteer

  1. Thanks Rae. Just talked with Matthew and he is echoing a lot of what you write. Hang in there. Know that you are one of a kind and you are loved for who you are….and for who you are not.

    Liked by 1 person

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