In early May, Paraguay celebrates Teacher’s Day, and it’s no small thing. In fact, in an almost ironic way, schools have the day off. The school where I work also got the day before off—because we held a celebration for teachers. In the morning of the celebration, students performed skits, dances, and poems. The school recognized one teacher who retired last year after 30 years of teaching. Then, there was a lunch for all the teachers. We had cake, danced a little, and sang traditional Paraguayan songs.
When my school invited me to participate in the teacher’s lunch not as a special guest but as a teacher it hit me: I am a teacher. I never thought I’d be a teacher. There were brief moments in high school when teaching, the profession, crossed my mind. My Peace Corps projects have brought me back to high school (I teach grades 8-12 primarily). My days, in Paraguay, are filled with life skills classes, English tutoring, and sometimes helping with communications class (Yes, I am helping with Spanish homework even though my students make fun of me for my errors in Spanish when I speak. It stems from the fact that I’m good at literary analysis, and that’s a challenge for many in my community).
Even if my role as a teacher wasn’t formalized by my work in the school, I still think my main project in Paraguay would be teaching. Whether I mean to or not, I push the people I interact with in my community to expand. First, they have to put in a good effort to understand me—which is not just a lesson in active listening, but also clear communication. Second, and more profound, we have different cultures and understandings of the world, and together we are helping each other grow.
It is easy to forget or demean the importance of exposure to people different from yourself in the grand scheme of life and Peace Corps service. But, in the end, that’s the core of it. Peace Corps volunteers do a range of work that can be reported—lectures, classes, building things, camps—but in the end the only sure things that change are the volunteers and the people with whom they spend the most time in their community. I can’t summarize personal growth neatly in a report. But, many things that are worthwhile are hard to quantify—love, friendship, goodness, happiness, kindness, respect—that’s what makes life so damn exciting.