Life as a PCV can be intriguing and unpredictable in some many ways, and there are many experiences that happen to be uniquely Peace Corps. Some are just so out of the ordinary that a US citizen living abroad still wouldn’t experience them, but Peace Corps Volunteers do. A lot of it comes down the community that is Peace Corps, worldwide.
Through Peace Corps, I have friends around the world: Peru, Jordan, Botswana, the Ukraine, Lesotho, Benin, Panama, Zambia, Azerbaijan, to name a few…countries that many Americans probably don’t even know are countries. Primarily we have been brought together via friends-of-friends, the internet, stumbling across blogs, or random encounters in airports, and some have become close friends. No matter what country, we are connected through our experiences with the Peace Corps. It’s a family. A very diverse, strange, open family that reaches to all corners of the world.
The past week has highlighted the connections I have with other volunteers. Last Monday, a site mate moved into my village. In many PC countries, site mates are common, but not in South Africa. The fact that we live maybe a mile apart, and that I can see her school from my house, is nothing short of amazing in SA. She contacted me just before moving to the village, and we made plans to meet up on Friday. Favi, as I’ll call her, was pretty much a stranger to me. I had spent two days training at their PST, but since there were about 40 PCTs, I didn’t catch many names, and I don’t think we ever chatted.
So, essentially I was meeting a new neighbor. Should be awkward, right? Well, remember we are both PCVs. So when we finally met up, it was like we were long lost friends. We literally couldn’t stop talking, and I’m sure anyone who saw us on the street were amazed by how fast we were talking, and how animated we were.
Later on, an RPCV (returned PCV…aka, finished with service) from Liberia called me up and stopped by my place. We had met through a PC couch surf group, and she was wanting to see what a PCV site in SA looked like. We had chatted quite a bit on Facebook, and I was delighted to show her and three of her friends what the rural areas of SA are like. She spent about an hour at my place, and we all had a great time learning about each other’s PC services. We talked about all manner of things, and it was fascinating to learn what PC Liberia is like.
PC is a very unique experience. Very few organizations send Americans abroad for such a long amount of time, and to be completely integrated into a new culture and language. PCVs are trained to speak the target language, and embrace the culture of their host countries. Typically, volunteers live at the level of the people in their community, and give up many comforts of modern life. Of course, each county is different, but the highs and lows, joys and sorrows, struggles and successes, are relatively the same. They’ve even worked out a graph depicting the mental state of volunteers over their two years of service-worldwide, not country specific. PC can identify when volunteers will hit their highs and lows in service, based on a worldwide average, and it’s pretty darn accurate.
When I met with my cohort in Washington DC two years ago for staging, it was like I was meeting a group of friends I had known for years. We didn’t know anything about one another, or even our names, but we had a strong connection already. Each one of us had spent months (or years) applying for PC, and had fought through challenges to get there. After two years, we are still a closely connected group. We’ve been through some much while serving in PC, and there are some things that only other PCVs can understand. It has been like this with every other volunteer I’ve met. We understand each other on a deeper level.
Being a part of the PC community is amazing. I look forward to returning to the states next year and getting involved with the Peace Corps community there, and for the random encounters with other volunteers in the future.
PS…..random fact, but this is my 300th post. I thought about doing something special for it, but then decided the PC community was special enough. 🙂