10 Things I wish I knew when I started Peace Corps

1. You will have an abundance of down town so prepare accordingly—even in the sites with the most work to be done, you will have your evenings to yourself.

2. You joined the Peace Corps which is a government funded organization and you will have a lot of red tape and government-type, political expectations. You are required to represent the U.S. and you will be subjected to policy above anything else.

3. Your fellow PCVs will be your family and friends and lifeline and indescribably important to your experience, and they will likely be totally different than the people you are picturing in your head.

4. Your time here will be ridiculously difficult at times and not because of any of the reasons you are thinking. For example most couples split up (but there are definitely couples who will make it), and you will miss your family/ friends all the time, and having sporadic electricity and running water is annoying, but the real struggles will be with finding your purpose and measuring any developments you are making. I was totally unprepared for this struggle.

5. You have a set of identifiers mine are: white meat, white girl, Australia, England, America, baby, sweetheart, pretty-girl, sexy, princess, blondie, blond-girl, fat girl (on a bad day) and you will be called these whether you appreciate it or not. It is a way to get your attention and so prepare yourself for these especially the ones that might be hard to stomach. For me it’s princess because I am in no way a princess-y lady and I have worked hard to build up my life, but that’s what strangers on the street see me for.

6. You will never be invisible. People will see you (especially white, Hispanic and Asian volunteers, but everyone as soon as they realize you are not Guyanese) and comment to you. I love Guyana and Guyanese people, and there are so many wonderful aspects of culture that make me extremely happy, this is one thing I do not care for. Men will cat call you, it is what is expected of them. Usually a nice polite hello, good morning whatever will demonstrate that you are not interested in their set of stupidness, but sometimes they will vulgarly persist.

7. There is a physically demanding aspect of living here. I am a college athlete in my early-mid twenties. I have a pretty spotless medical history. I work out and I consider myself to be a tough young lady, but Guyana occasionally knocks me on my ass. I have bug bites all over my legs and feet. The bugs here are relentless. I am a creek swimmer and occasionally a dip in the creek results in some itchy, scratchy uncomfortable situation. You do not have the immune system that people born here have so you will occasionally get sicker than a dog. Volunteers often experience diarrhea, and eating foods we are not accustomed to occasionally get your tummy in a bind. Plus there are just the accidents. Everything is different here. If you are trying a new way of doing something sometimes you will get beat-up in the process. Like opening a can with a knife because your can opener broke might result in a nasty cut, or clearing your yard with a cutlass or getting dust mites from a closet. Life here takes acclimation. In our group people got dengue fever, chickengunya, food poisoning, colds, fevers, ground itch (little worms that live off your subcutaneous tissue), chigger fleas (little grubs that get into your feet or exposed skin and eat a nice little whole in you), hundreds of bites, minor cuts and scrapes, sprained ankles, a non-venomous snake bite, more serious private medical issues and other little things. Also there is a lot of bat poop which can be toxic and make you feel like you have bad allergies. When you feel less than your best its hard to accomplish much.

8. Limited electricity means not having a refrigerator (not the case for everyone or even most volunteers) and therefore being essentially forced into a nearly vegan lifestyle. Also meat is relatively expensive means that I am a vegan plus eggs and butter and occasionally a nice parmesan or other hardy cheese. My point is that I cook like a Midwesterner (meat and cheese in most meals, and most meals are a piece of meat, 2 side items usually one with cheese) and that’s been basically the hardest part of living here for me.

9. I am the same me that left last April. There is no magical moment or transformative process taking place. Maybe I am a different breed of volunteer. If anything I am more me here than I was at home. I love the outdoors and I have a push to be myself here. I have a push to be bold and involved and it’s great. So maybe your journey will be incredibly transformative, but mine has been affirmation of the person I was and the things I wish to continue to work on.

10. You can do things that you think you cannot. For example, I taught English to adult refugees part time, and was mainly a case aid. I have tutored young children and coached little kid soccer teams, but I am by no means an elementary teacher, but here I have my own class of primary students and might end up with more than one class when all is said and done. I love my little class and I am doing an adequate job. I am also doing many many things I’ve never done before so it just means taking a deep breath and trying my hardest to figure things out. We tiny little humans are full of potential.

Hopefully this list might give you things to think about, but who knows? As you will hear a million times over, each volunteer’s experience is quite different.


One thought on “10 Things I wish I knew when I started Peace Corps”

  1. Thanks Kelly, I really appreciate your letters to Guy 27. I have definitely had lots of questions (especially about packing) and your posts have helped a lot 🙂 Can’t wait to meet you!!

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