Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Integrating then and now

I think a common fear and anxiety among volunteers who are nearing the end of their service is the question of how they are going to readjust to life back in the United States. So, I’m going to share a few of the experiences I’ve personally had during my re-integration process.

I would say that one of the greater challenges I’ve dealt with in returning to the States has been integrating my Peace Corps life and experiences into my life in the U.S. There were a lot of “challenges” upon first coming home, but this one has stayed with me a bit longer than most. I think it’s important that I integrate my PC life into my “everyday” life and this can be very difficult. I think that this is one of the main reasons I’m re-starting this blog. My life in Wisconsin is about as different as could possibly be imagined from my life in Suriname, so I find it important to honor my experience by bringing it into my current life when and where I can.

One thing I have been surprised about is how rarely people ask me about Peace Corps. I don’t usually bring up that I’m an RPCV with people I just meet. When it naturally comes up, I talk about it, but I’ve learned to avoid that awkward moment where the person I’m talking to clearly has no idea what to say. Fairly often, upon telling someone that I returned this summer from 2 years in the jungles of South America, I get a 5 second blank stare. Then the person invariably says, “that sounds like a blast” and changes the subject. This has been difficult, because I want to talk about my experiences. I feel like I’m denying a part of who I am when I just avoid the subject. I really think that people don’t ask questions because they feel ignorant about not knowing anything about Suriname and hardly anything about Peace Corps. It seems so natural and obvious that most people would know next to nothing about these things. I think this has led me to push for a change in how I act towards others. When I don’t know about something that someone is talking about, I’m working on simply asking questions. I guess I’ve learned to be less afraid of looking foolish or ignorant. Sometimes you can look more foolish by not being curious.

I do feel fortunate because my family and close friends are amazing at asking questions about PC and hearing endless weird stories about my experience. Because my father was a Peace Corps Volunteer, my family has always existed with Peace Corps as a sort of backdrop to our world. We’re all travelers and we all have very curious minds. So, when I do feel like I need to talk about my experience, my family and close friends have been really wonderful at allowing me to open up to them.

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