Last week, I attended a training with the other volunteers in my group. On the second night, we had a bonfire and talent show. While we made s’mores and watched the moon rise, I thought about how lucky I was to be in Paraguay with such talented people.
For the talent show some people sang in Guaraní, others in Spanish, and most of us sang in English. There was guitar and ukulele. Volunteers performed solos, some duets, and some trios. We sang some songs as a group—but not hippie songs like you might be imagining. We sang mostly pop songs, though there were some folk songs. No kumbaya.
One volunteer presented her comic of what jobs each of us would have if our group worked for a commercial airline—G-44 Airlines. (She’s thinking about coming out with a sequel: Our roles if we worked at a mall). Another volunteer danced.
When I was thinking about joining the Peace Corps I spoke with several returned volunteers. They each said that one huge reason to do the Peace Corps is the people—the other volunteers. But, these returned volunteers had a hard time explaining how volunteers made going halfway around the world worth it—just like I have a hard time explaining why high school sucked and college was pretty cool.
I’ve come to the same conclusion as those returned volunteers: Getting to know other volunteers is an amazing part of the Peace Corps experience.
What makes volunteers an interesting group?
Volunteers are from different parts of the US (and beyond) and diverse backgrounds. We each have different ways of being, different priorities, and different dreams. But, we are all doers. We are all adventurers. We are all here for some reason. Some volunteers want to change the world. Some are using the Peace Corps to uncover who they really are. Some volunteers are in it for the challenge. Some volunteers see the Peace Corps as a stepping-stone in their career.
How do other volunteers add to the Peace Corps experience?
Volunteers have a breadth of knowledge that leads to interesting conversations. Rather that trying to fit into common conversation themes—my most frequent experience in DC: bars, football, TV…—we like to talk about multifaceted topics. We also tend to listen well, so even if we don’t’ know much about what a person is talking about we’ll give people the time to describe their passions.
I’ve only been here 7ish months and my conversations have ranged from music to gender and string theory to recycling.
All volunteers are going somewhere. For some, that somewhere might be heavily tied to their work. Some want to dedicate themselves to international development or education. For others, that somewhere relates to traveling the world or creating a family. Volunteers, regardless of their dreams, take action. They don’t wait for people to do things for them or for life to pass; they’re movers and shakers.
Like all good worker bees, volunteers know how to take time off. We party. But, it’s not just the crazy parties that you see in the Great Gatsby—shallow. We perform music, we dance, we talk, and we strategize about how to make life better.
Volunteers are guapo. We get stuff done. Yeah, sometimes we have hard days when we can’t leave our houses. But, no matter how hard things seem, we bounce back. Most of us are here trying to make friendships and improve lives in whatever small way we can.
Volunteers are flexible and observant. We have opinions but we’re ready to change them when we get more information. We don’t just want to know about other people and other cultures; we want to understand what makes them tick. We take time to reflect and digest. We ask questions and look for answers so we can deepen our knowledge of our host country, our lives, and ourselves.
Daily encounters with challenges we never imagined we’d face help bring out the creativity in each of us. Volunteers make art out of trash, develop games that make kids excited to learn about dental health, and get community-wide projects done despite political crevasses that have divided our communities for generations.