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.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Eat, Pray Love -- Just Don't Join Peace Corps

A lot of Peace Corps volunteers increase our reading habits while in service.  Recently, I picked up "Eat, Pray, Love."  Like many people presumably felt, I thought, "Ooohh...I wanna do that!  I wanna have the money to just go traveling for a year, be immersed in other cultures..."  Many of you may be thinking, "But just did were a Peace Corps volunteer.  You did it for TWO years!  And you really became immersed in the culture because you were living at the village level helping people.  It wasn't like 'Eat, Pray, Love's 4 months here, 4 months there."

I understand the tendency to look at Peace Corps as an escape, another world, freedom from the responsibilities of life in the states.  And in some ways, it is.  You don't have to worry about health insurance, car insurance, car payments, rent or mortgage payments...etc etc.  Peace Corps is many things, all different for different people.  But one thing it is not is personal freedom.  The rules they have in place for safety and security have you calling in every night you sleep away from your site.  Are you the kind of traveler who likes to go somewhere for a spur-of-the-moment weekend trip?  If you were somewhere where the nearest country border was 30 minutes away, would you cross the border for dinner some night?  Well, you can't in Peace Corps...if you wanna follow the rules anyway :)

Even though I have done Peace Corps, that deep desire to flee and just live with bare necessities in some island village is still there.  Peace Corps has not fulfilled that.  As a PCV, you cannot do whatever you want all the time.  You must fill quarterly reports and let PC know how your projects are going.  And in reality, you have to have internet to do that.  The ability to stay in touch with family and friends was admittedly great, but I know that a lot of us perhaps secretly wanted to know what it would be like to be REALLY cut off from the news of the world for long pockets of time.  But that Peace Corps experience doesn't exist in most countries anymore.  And most importantly: you have to do some projects.  You can't just sit around on the beach having drinks with umbrellas in them 24/7.  Peace Corps is not vacation, and it isn't even hard work that you would want to do if you weren't working, like staying home everyday tending your own garden, reading a book and looking out at the Pacific (notice how the ocean is always encompassed in these fantasies of mine).

Peace Corps is something worth doing.  Just know that it's not two years of freedom. It is a lot of being told what to Peace Corps staff, by locals.  And that can be really hard to take.  It's two years of representing the US and being a government employee.  And having that hanging over your head can be challenging.  It can make you feel like you can't be yourself.  It's not New York City.  You are under a microscope and there are consequences for the things that you do, many of them larger than your individual service.  You can't yell "F U" to someone on the street and think it's not going to come back to you in some unforeseen way...or reflect poorly on the PCVs around you.

If you want to spend a couple years discovering yourself at your own pace, being able to travel where you want and do projects that are fully under your control (not following a government-sanctioned community focus), then do just that.  Travel alone, with friends or other organizations.  But Peace Corps is not the best vehicle by which to do that.  Peace Corps is great because it provides that support and security.  But just understand that it's a two-way street.