Expectations and Reputation of Peace Corps

So this is my last post for my mini series “hidden side of Peace Corps, what PCVs aren’t telling you.” Although I could write more, for example: illness while serving abroad, but I think 3 posts is enough. Today I’ll be sharing my opinion of how my expectations before entering PC and actually being here differ.

Historically I thought Peace Corps was this classic experience (like what you heard about with volunteers serving in the 80s), where I would just get dropped off in a village for 2 years, live among the people, grow in my knowledge of the world, and share what I learned in school, but it’s nothing like that. I used to imagine riding a boat down an unknown river in Africa to get to my village where I would learn all these new farming techniques and I would share what I learned from jobs and my education in the States. Sure, maybe some volunteers in the heart of Africa experience that, but I instead, live in a city that Anthony Bourdain has traveled to, has colorful buildings like Nice, France, has running water, and… is in the desert. Needless to say, I didn’t get the site that I thought I would.

Now that I’ve entered my second year I can speak better to how my expectations of PC before I came and my life now, are different. PC in the States does a great job showcasing all the successes of PCVs. They highlight projects that are large-scale and a lifestyle appealing to Westerners. Let me give you a couple of examples: they do posts exploring different “rooms” of PCVs, including yerts, huts, apartments, etc. I’ve seen videos of PCVs building schools, digging wells, installing sewage systems, bringing electricity to their villages, etc. They make the life of a PCV look glamorous, always smiling and happy. I came to PC thinking I was going to “save the world” just because that’s what people kept telling me when I told them I was going into PC. It was said enough times I almost started to believe that it was possible, something I could do in PC. Truthfully that is not what we do, we don’t save the world. Sure, some volunteers tackle big projects like I listed, but for the most part, a lot of us lead simple lives hoping to share our lives with others and vice versa. I can only describe it as “jamm rekk” (peace only). The truth is, building relationships and learning are our 2 biggest accomplishments. It’s not about who builds a school, it’s about how you can impact your community and share your knowledge so they can see who Americans are and how sharing experiences and lives is a 2 way street. In PC we call this “integration,” it’s how we also stay safe in our communities. Integration is about 90% of what we do. When people care about you, they will look out for you and will watch over you, because you matter to them. This is important in terms of Senegalese hospitality and it also concerns our safety. By building relationships built on genuine love we have friendships that will last a lifetime filled with smiles, tears, and stories.

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In fact, our lives are not glamorous at all… You might wonder, what does Tiffany do day-to-day? Honestly, I don’t know if I could give you a concrete answer besides greeting people. That is the one consistent thing I do every day! I spend a lot of time sitting and not doing anything. I weed, prune, water, and do agriculture things A LOT, but I also read and watch TV A LOT. Sometimes I have meetings, but 50% of the time, they get canceled, and most of the time they get canceled the day before, so what do I do to fill that time I would have been in a meeting, I sit around. While I sit around, I continue to make strong relationships, but being in my second year, my relationships are pretty strong, and I’m not feeling the pressure to learn language anymore, so I’m complacent. Complacency is a hard place to not be. Motivation and being a self-starter are definitely things sometimes missing from my PC service. Therefore, finding fulfillment in what I do can sometimes be rather difficult. It’s hard to not get dragged down when you hear those glamorous stories about that one volunteer who built 2 schools in his service. But at the same time, when a project starts and goes really well (picture below), it all comes together and all those self-doubt days are worth it. One successful project can be all that matters. One successful project can make me think about extending for a 3rd year (just kidding I promise I’ll be done in November, though I can’t deny that it has crossed my mind).

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But let me end my mini series with, it is truly a blessing being here. Though there are hardships and I might not do much day-to-day, I love my PC experience. I wouldn’t trade my strong gender role, emotional roller coaster life for a boring 2 years in America. I love watching children in my community grow up. I love hanging out with my family. I love eaves-dropping on people’s conversations of me because they don’t know I speak Wolof. I love all of the friends (American and Senegalese) I’ve made while being here. As I finish my service, I hope to thrive and radiate good American vibes (haha, does that even make sense?). Here are my silly goals by the end of my service- listen to a radio show and fully understand it (I think I’m at 75% right now), finish my projects out strong, provide a good foundation for my replacement, and celebrate every day in Senegal.

Until Next Time,

Tiffany

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