Recently I found myself reflecting on my year of service with a former PCV on the phone. We were musing about how funny we both find it when people attempt to give one another advice in the Peace Corps. Not funny in the “haha hilarious” sense, but funny in the sense that advice that is worthwhile for one individual will be entirely useless for another. At the core of it, we both agreed that each volunteer must really trust their own instincts to make this all work, a feat that often proves tremendously difficult in practice.
So with this disclaimer in mind, here are some of the lessons I am working through in my very parochial experience. I do not offer them to anyone as a solution for any troubles– take it instead as my diary, meant for me and by me.
- Dear Rae, sometimes it will feel like a conspiracy.
There will be days when every teacher shows up to school wearing the same outfit, perfectly coordinated. You always stick out, but especially when you’re wearing the wrong outfit in the group photo. Sometimes, you’ll have time to rush home and change. Sometimes, someone will tell you in advance what to wear and when. Sometimes, it will feel like everyone got together in the group chat and plotted a way to make you feel silly. Feelings you haven’t wrestled with since high school will creep up on you– What am I doing wrong? How do I fit in?— but you will ultimately realize that while it feels like a conspiracy to destroy you, the reality is that it has nothing to do with you. In fact, you need to get over yourself. Pay attention to what colors correspond to which days. Ask people what to wear with higher frequency. Figure it out girl.
- Dear Rae, you are not here to be a Thai person.
This complements the above lesson in a direct way. While being culturally responsible is very important, you do not need to bend over backwards trying to assimilate to Thai culture. At your most basic level, you are not a Thai person because of the way you have been socialized from birth. And this is very okay. You’re okay, kid. Believe it or not, a large part of the joy you will experience at site will come from sharing your own food and culture. Lean in to who you are instead of trying so hard to be someone you’ll never be and embrace all the weird feelings along that journey.
- Dear Rae, “no man is an island.”
Most of the ways you relieve stress are solitary activities (e.g. reading, writing, and running). As a naturally reserved person, it is dangerously easy to overindulge in these activities and you may eventually find yourself not doing what you’re here to do– build relationships with others. Setting a routine that forces you to intentionally be with people every single day of your service will be paramount to fighting these natural tendencies. You want to relax and read an essay and be in your own head for a bit? Excellent, but first you have got to spend an hour at the river with your students. It will feel like an obligation at first but you will soon find the joy in it because deep down, you need your community desperately. Their love and light will do you more wonders than you could ever imagine but you cannot access this part of your experience without intentionally seeking it out.
“It is not from ourselves that we learn to be better than we are.”