Peace Corps Volunteers are supposed to be flexible. Its one of the many things that’s hammered into our heads from the moment we begin our application process. We’re supposed to be flexible about where we live, what we eat, how we dress, who our friends are, which language we learn, about cultural differences, about about everything you can imagine.
Peace Corps Volunteers are supposed to come without expectations. We can’t expect to live in a city or in a village. We can’t expect to have running water, internet or indoor plumbing. We can’t expect people to be on time. We can’t expect people to be grateful or even care that we’re here. We’re told we can’t expect most things to run as planned. We’re told to leave the expectations at the door; or at the very least seriously modify them before we leave the US.
Peace Corps Volunteers are told during training that we need to be a lot of things to be a ‘good volunteer’ and they’re almost all things that all Peace Corps Volunteers could benefit from learning and putting to practice during their service.
The thing about these attitude or behavioral modifications is they’re hard. They’re hard for the tangible things, like using an outdoor bathroom, that is maybe just a hole in the ground, in an Eastern European winter or not being allowed to open a window during a two hour bus ride in the middle of summer because of a superstition about the wind making you sick, but these attitude or behavioral modifications are the hardest for the intangible ones.
The thing about the intangible points is that we are probably not expecting them and may not even realize they’re happening to us, and that we are in turn reacting or not reacting to them until we’ve formed a new pattern of behavior.
For example new patterns of speech, speaking slower because you’re used to people speaking English as a second language or you’re speaking in a non-native tongue and want to make sure people understand you or need more time to formulate your thoughts.
Or maybe now we’re more stingy with money. Maybe now we’re less generous than we might have been at home.
Or perhaps our entire outlook on the world has changed. Maybe this experience has created patterns of thought that have us looking at the world more as us and them, rather than seeing the humanity in all people.
In less than a week, I will have been living in Moldova for two years and as I approach my last weeks of service, I find myself reflecting on the person I have become, the person who is returning to the US, how this experience has changed me for the better and for the worse.
Over the next month, while I am here and over the next several at home, I will make an attempt to write about some of the tangible and intangible changes in my life, outlook and attitude.