ASAN is a blog of Adrian's adventures! (Formerly a Peace Corps Blog) "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." – Mark Twain
I first saw the graph of “The Cycle of Vulnerability and Adjustment” during training, and I didn’t quite know how true it would be, but as I’m approaching my end of service, this is right on! Great summary with all the ups and down, but way more ups and most worth it. 😀
This is definitely one of the best pieces of training advice I got, if not the best, besides actually going to shadow a PCV at their sites to get a taste of how it really is out there.
I could write at great length about all of this but I would be here too long (maybe I already wrote too much though ha); however, I might come back to add to this post later. Actually, I thought I would write a lot less here, but the reflecting on this cycle was productive for me to think about my whole service, as I have now officially just 3 months left so I have written some general lessons learned in this post as well.
In general the cycle goes back and forth with feelings vulnerability (negative) and adjustment (positive), however it is more on the positive side. Surely, this all depends on each Volunteer and parts of the cycle can blend, be longer or shorter or start or end at slightly different times. My personal experience has been phenomenal in the Peace Corps and would highly encourage it to anyone, but just be ready for the fun rollercoaster!
In recap this graph says, surprisingly accurately, the following:
Great, great feelings finally coming to site, something you have been thinking about since a year ago or so when you applied, and enjoying all the new good vibes, welcoming (mostly) people, and sights and sounds!
Where am I? Whoa, what just happened? Ok sure.
Getting lost and you’re without a GPS map probably. Just getting know your site and starting to feel overwhelmed that there is a lot to know to get ready to start your projects and do them right.
I´m finally getting the hang of this and having fun getting down to work. Projects are finally taking off the ground, albeit slowly, very slowly, and it´s good to get your hands dirty, instead of doing nothing or being lost, and starting to see the fruits of your labor.
Another thing is, you are probably in a very small village or town with very little to do in formal recreational fun as we know it in the USA, so there are a lot of feelings of being bored and feel somewhat down at times because you don´t have the usual things that you are comfortable with to have fun, however, my partial solution to that was to just keep busy and doing work. So, I was happy to finally have projects getting going to keep me busy and see that it was actually helping the community. You also start having pretty good friends at site making things more fun and also in turn that leads to more work opportunities.
Couldn’t help but laugh at this wording, although it is somewhat true haha. For me it´s a bit like going over the hump. The progress of work from the last 6 months might have started to slow down and hit the brakes, or maybe it’s just that those projects finished, so you´re left at square one having to hit the reset button before pushing into the second year of your service. It may be a time to re-calibrate or adjust project plans as time has made one face new changes but that could add stress and extra work.
However, this is a great opportunity to start new projects, but it is similar to the initial shock of getting to know your site, because you just have to start planning again, and the added stress of that, plus all the other stresses and problems that have already set in from the last year (language, culture, finding trustful relatable friends, productive hobbies, etc) , just add up. Plus, from a personal side, it is a bit hard to know that really, despite the successes had, you still have a year more before you can see your loved ones or home back in the USA.
That is why, for me, it is like going over a hump, but being able to relax, meditate, pray and just stand back and reevaluate, and looking at all the great beautiful moments that have happened already, helping many people and thinking about how many more people you will help, and that this is just a turning point in service, allows one the spirit and peace to keep on going.
Every Volunteer ahead of me told me that the second year goes by FAST. This happens once you get into this stage. Although work might have slowed in the past few months, projects start to pick up again after having readjusted plans to account for changes.
For me, this adjustment phase was even smoother than the first one at 6 months, because all the successes I had the first year, just start to build of each other, and snowball in a good way to even more successes, and becomes even easy to have successes because all the hard work foundation has already been laid in the first year.
This becomes more pronounced in my case at least in the final months of this stage (last 5-4 months before end of service) as things just start to come together and get ready to be wrapped up with a bow on top. Basically, in a sense the stars align, and with a lot of luck too, projects just come together –but of course with your hard work and that of your counterparts.
Plus you just get excited that you are actually finished and are proud of that and having been able to survive, even despite those who might have doubted or even your own personal doubts. I think that all Volunteers have these personal doubts after a few weeks at site, asking yourself why am I here again? Why am I putting myself through this tough experienced in the middle of who knows where when I could be easily living comfortably with a much higher paycheck in the USA? That is normal, but then you remember you are here for a higher purpose, for me, to serve others and the world, and that keeps me going. 🙂 You see the light at the end of the tunnel, if you will, and are excited to see what your next chapter or phase in life will be, what´s the next job or where are you traveling to, etc, which leads to the next stage.
You can only do what you can do, and you try your best and that´s it. I did my best at site, and have had many successes but also some failures as in any work, but whatever positives my site takes out of my service, I know they are better off than before I came and appreciative. Whatever projects I started, hopefully they may continue after I go, and if not, and some things fail, it´s ok, I did the best I could and now it´s in the hands of fate, and the people and organizations in place, but I know there were valuable lessons learned for all those involved whatever the outcome in the long-term.
More lessons learned:
-Another big thing is just being appreciate of the little simple things in life, and remember what life is about, love and giving. This is something I may have had to be reminded here in a one of the poorest areas of the world but the happiest. Actually according to studies, Paraguay has been ranked as the happiest country in the world! It doesn´t matter how many material things one collects, as is a habit in the USA, but the best things in life are free, family, friendship, love, giving, nature, laughing, smiling, and being at peace. You learn to accept what has come down your way, poorer or not. We are so worried in the USA of material happiness, but those without anything are happy here, they don´t worry, but are happy. So that is a lesson, with love, don’t worry, everything will be all right.
I really did learn the importance of giving and giving always, every day. Before I would be giving, but sometimes just more focused on one day of the week or a month or so, maybe going to a soup kitchen to help give food to the homeless for 2 hours, but Peace Corps has showed me it must be more than just one hour or so a week, it must be a daily action, in the routine, a habit, of giving. It is a lifestyle, not a one time event.
And better yet, giving in a way through something you love too, that way it will be easy to give. For me, I love businesses and art, so I have enjoyed business consulting young entrepreneurs mainly with marketing without cost, so this is something I plan to continue even in the USA by helping local businesses in need of help without cost through the week as a hobby. Giving is receiving, so giving really is happiness.
I actually put in my application statement of purpose letter to Peace Corps that my goal was to at least do my part of changing the world smile by smile, person by person, no smile is too small, although I still have three important months left, I´m proud to say that I have accomplished this! 😀
For me, being able to help one or two people at site, as I did, putting a smile on their face, means more to me than making 1 million dollars, for those are real people who needed your help most, who really might not have had the help from anywhere else, and you were there at the right time and place, whatever role fate may have had. This is part of the reason it is said Volunteers may actually learn more from our students and those we help than what we teach or give others, the whole experience in a developing region allows one to learn so much.
-You can´t put a price on a beautiful smile or an eternally grateful soul or a life positively changed, life is precious and you were part of that. There will be a positive ripple effect too, so your good actions, you have no telling how far they will go here at site. I do remember seeing a news article saying that a number of Presidents in Africa attested to having their start pushed by the help of a Peace Corps Volunteer, so who knows if you are helping now, will later lead to help countless more, but probably so.
With so much injustice in the world, with billions without clean water, food, or shelter, and more, I believe we each have an obligation, as a citizen of the Earth, to help our fellow brothers, to give a positive contribution to those around the world in need. Who are we to turn a blind eye? Especially us who live comfortable in developed regions. For me this was one, out of many more to come, positive contribution to help those in need around the world.
-You also much more greatly, greatly appreciate the things that you have left, and GREATLY miss that which you hold dear back home, that is different for everyone. It is a reflection along the lines that you don´t know what you have till it’s gone sometimes, and so you are put far away from all that you did have in the USA. So, it makes one eternally more grateful, if you let it, of everything and everyone, in some sense. Although two years isn´t eternity, it sure seems like it sometimes yet passing by like nothing when you are having fun and working hard.
-Another great experience has been this has all really strengthen and honed my leadership skills as each Volunteer must be a leader at site especially as in most cases, you are the only PCV, and the community is counting on you to lead a change. I would say I might have easily doubled, tripled or more my leadership ability. You start, plan, monitor, evaluate, and end your own projects at site, although also with the great support of counterparts at site and PC staff, you take the responsibility to ensure you see the results through. As I side, I had to regularly public speak in another language to a crowd of about 60 people talking business, so that alone develops that skills and leadership. In developing regions where there are many obstacles whether that is lack of roads, internet, corruption, professionalism, and more, being able to overcome all of these own your own or knowing when you do need the help, far from home, without or limited resources, mobilizing people to accomplish a long-term sustainable goal, let alone in another language(s) and culture, requires leadership, and each PCV who completes service, comes out an even stronger leader because of this.
There are many more thoughts I could share, and I may add more later, but overall I believe these lessons learned and reflections lead one to feel at a good place as service ends. I will have another separate blog post just on my lessons learned later on.
Vulnerability: Close of Service fears 24-27 months
Yikes I’m here, but it´s all good, I got a plan in the works. Not sure where I will work after or be exactly, but I know wherever it is, it is for a reason, and everything will be all right! This has been a great adventure and give my past education and other experiences, I know I will be prepared professionally and personally for whatever is to come.