Sometimes, being a Peace Corps Volunteer can suck.
I normally try to highlight the positive aspects of service, but the reality is there are tough moments too.
Last week, the Mak19 volunteers spent the week in Skopje for a technical in-service training. (IST: additional training for our jobs and instructions on some Peace Corps reporting forms and grant applications.) Our main counterparts joined us for two of the days and it was really valuable to talk about the importance of lesson planning, ideas for the classroom and generally to get ideas from other pairs.
For me though, the best part of IST was reconnecting with my fellow volunteers and sharing our successes and struggles. At times, it felt like there was a lot of negativity. I appreciated that.
The language barrier can be frustrating. Adjusting to a new culture can be hard. Finding our place at work can be tricky. Living with a family can be challenging. Sometimes it feels like I’ve lost my independence, asking permission to have guests or checking in before spending the night away from home. It’s frustrating when I don’t have the language ability to express myself. I’ve never been wholly dependent on public transportation before. Sometimes it feels like I’m not contributing enough, not learning enough Macedonian, not integrating into the community enough. There is always (and probably always will be) more to do in each of those areas.
So often, we highlight the best moments at site, or in the classroom. We paint a rosy picture and tell ourselves we need to stick it out and be tough through the challenging stuff. The struggle is part of the process, right?
But we don’t have to do that. IST reminded me that we have each other as an incredible support system to share the good and the bad. And we’re going to deal with both.
I’m thrilled to hear stories from my friends about great experiences at work and awesome home stay placements. It’s encouraging to hear those success stories. It’s also encouraging to hear from friends who are having frustrations, to know I’m not the only one who has bad days, to compare notes, and just to know that we have each other’s backs.
I love my Peace Corps experience so far, but there are also moments when I feel like everything sucks. On those days, I try to focus on all the wonderful things in my life.
I have friends who will make up show tune parodies on the spot with me. Friends that will pick bees out of my hair hiking. Friends to swap teaching ideas with and fill in the missing language gaps. Friends that will go first on the trail to make sure that noise is really just a lizard. (Snake phobia guys. It’s a real thing.)
I’m thankful for sharing recipes and learning to adapt them for the ingredients available. I’m thankful for making friends at the market. I’m thankful for long walks and long runs; for high fives from students and the kindness of my coworkers. For the extreme patience of everyone around me. I’m thankful for late night talks and emphatic support, whether or not my venting makes any sense. I’m thankful for ‘I love yous’ and hugs. (So many hugs.) I’m thankful for wine. I’m thankful for cookies. I’m thankful for care packages and letters, perfect greeting cards, and emails. I’m thankful for phone calls and Skype and all the technology that brings my worlds a little closer.
During training they tell us over and over that everyone’s experience will be different. They tell us there will be ups and downs; emotional highs and lows. They were right, but that’s life everywhere. I’m just glad I’m taking on my ups and downs with such wonderful people supporting me.