The opinions expressed in this blog are mine, and mine alone. They do not represent the views of the Peace Corps or the United States Government.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

United States and Identity

Many of us [PCVs] have started thinking about what we may want to do after Peace Corps service.  We have exactly 9 months left in Botswana.  Sometimes it seems like a long time.  But lately, it seems incredibly short.  For those of us wanting to go to graduate school, we must think about taking entrance exams, writing essays and submitting applications.  At the time when our service is heating up and we may feel busier than before, our minds begin to take us away from Botswana.

For me, part of the question of “what’s next” isn’t just about what I will do.  It’s also about where I will live.  How do I feel about going back to the states?  I have been talking a bit with some of the volunteers who left Botswana in June.  Some have transitioned back really well, are happily reunited with family, friends and significant others.  Yet, some have really struggled to feel at home in what everyone else considers “home” for us.

People say that home is where the heart is.  For those of us that are in our twenties, Peace Corps may be the first significant thing we did after college.  Although American values shaped us as we grew up, life feels much broader than that now.  When I left for Peace Corps, I was happy to get away from the hustle and bustle of life in the states, and how seriously people took politics and other social issues.  After four years of Brown and a nonstop year of thesis writing, sleep deprivation and over-caffeinating, I was ready for a break.

But instead of feeling ready to get back into that world, I have no desire to.  I enjoy discussions about international affairs and human rights issues are still important for sure.  Yet, I find myself not taking it all too seriously.  And I constantly wonder, what is the big deal?  What is everyone getting so worked up about?  I could say that not having running water for weeks or seeing the way people live puts things into perspective.  But it’s bigger than that.  It’s not just my view of the world or of the United States that has changed.  I am different.  I view things differently.  I value my human relationships more than anything else.  I no longer want to work in a fast-paced, demanding job.  I want to support people; I want to do what I can.  But I know where that begins and where it ends.  I will never again kill myself to get something in on time or skip a meal because I have to work.  Nothing seems that serious to me anymore.

One returned volunteer was telling me that she felt like a foreigner in her own country.  I anticipate feeling similarly.  I did feel that way when I first returned for a few weeks back in February.  People say that you reintegrate, get used to it again.  I am sure that I will.  But for now, Botswana is home.  And in some ways, I think it always will be, even if I no longer live here.

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