Please note that the opinions reflected on this blog are solely MY opinion. They do not reflect the Peace Corps or the US Government in any way.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

You live, you learn

I wanted to start this post by sincerely thanking everyone who I know has followed my blog from day one. I hope that you have laughed, learned, and reflected throughout it all. I am flattered and truly honored by the idea that people care what I think and that you are all interested in learning how my perspective has changed over the past couple of years. The 3rd goal of Peace Corps is to help Americans understand the people and cultures of other countries. I hope that I have achieved that to some extent with this blog.

I have been told by many of you who follow me consistently that you appreciate the honesty with which I share my experience here and, well, it’s time that I admit that the Peace Corps maybe wasn’t for me. I know what you’re thinking… what?! What happened? Did something catastrophic lead you to this conclusion? Or maybe you’re thinking, well, obviously. As my time here in Senegal is rapidly winding down, I find myself reflecting quite often over my life here.

Upon finishing our service, we have to fill out several different reports. There’s the description of service (DOS) report which is the only official documentation we will have to give to future employers and graduate schools in order to measure our experience here. There’s also the close of service (COS) report. This is typically given to our replacements but, as I am not being replaced, this will simply describe my experience in more detail and go on file in case Peace Corps Senegal decides to place someone in either one of my towns again.

Now, if any new volunteers are reading this, I do not want you to get discouraged. I’m going to start out by saying why this experience wasn't for ME in particular but I am going to wrap it up by saying what living in Senegal has done for me and why I have stuck it out this whole time. I’m sure that I have mentioned some of these things throughout the past two years so I’m sorry if this post sounds repetitive but I think it’s important to note all in the same place where I am coming from.

Most of you know that I have wanted to join the Peace Corps since I was quite young. Long before I even knew what that meant exactly. This has been both my motivation and burden while debating whether or not to finish my commitment to Senegal. This was something I had always wanted, didn't I owe it to myself to stick it out? These past few weeks have entailed a lot of reflection on the past two years. There was a close of service conference where we had career experts come in and help us figure out what we’re going to do next. We also were often asked, similarly to the forms I mentioned earlier, “What did you do with your Peace Corps service?” I kind of didn’t know how to respond. Don’t get me wrong, I have done stuff, things that I never would have imagined being able to pull off and I know that my time here was beneficial to many people (both Senegalese and back home) as well as instrumental to my own personal growth.

But, the Peace Corps is different than it used to be. We used to come here and do our best to integrate into our towns, learn the languages, and maybe complete a few projects along the way. Now, due to the wonderful advancement of technology and potential budgetary restraints, we have to be much more strict regarding monitoring and evaluating (aka, justifying) our time here.

In a way, I get it. The taxpayers and the US Government deserve to know what their money is going towards. But, at the same time, doesn’t the fact that we’re simply living over here, promoting diplomacy and making small strides towards the development of Senegal count towards something? How am I supposed to quantify the number of people who I have truly touched here? It didn’t take a formal training for me to convince a young girl to open a savings account. There was no official gauge to measure the number of conversations I had convincing Senegalese that not all Americans hate Muslims. I have no way of communicating what the impact of seeing a young, single, educated, independent woman (me, duh) did for the young girls I have mentored throughout the past two years. Where is the importance of these, in my opinion, monumental moments catalogued?

Along with the forms that we are required to complete at the end of our service, there is a form we fill out quarterly calling the Volunteer Reporting Form (VRF) that has certain indicators that must be met. If our supervisors don’t feel like we've met enough targets in our particular program, (for me, community economic development) they will typically reach out to us and say something along the lines of, “Great work, but I wish you had done more in your particular sector.” Which, to me, sounds more like, “Where is the proof that I am running this program effectively? Where are the specific numbers that I can report to make myself and our sector look the best?”

The main point I’m trying to make here is that I fear the initial reasons behind forming the Peace Corps are falling to the wayside as these modern day evaluation tools inhibit and restrict the true impact that we are making. I don’t like being made to feel like I didn’t accomplish much here because my particular feats don’t fit onto the black and white forms. However, some people really like having these forms to guide them along the way, so to each their own.

Certain aspects of Peace Corps may not have been for me but working abroad and doing what I've done definitely were for me. Similarly, though, I do want to mention that the ideas of cross-cultural relationships and encouraging diplomacy (both goals highlighted in the Peace Corps's mission) are additional reasons why I have not left this experience. Also, I honestly did not belong in the business sector. There was no way of knowing this until I was too far into service. I know why they placed me there, with my background in International Business, it made perfect sense. But I have found my most rewarding projects, again for me personally, to be in either youth development or education which are not specified sectors within Peace Corps Senegal.

With that said, there is no bound to the satisfaction I feel for actually (almost) completing my Peace Corps service. I know when you look at my Facebook it might seem that I have been having the time of my life over here! A two year, paid vacation. Not so much (although, yes, obviously some of my time here has been a blast). I’m just not the kind of person to broadcast how hard things are, on Facebook at least. That’s what this blog is for, hehe. These past two years have easily been the most difficult of my life. But with these daily challenges has come immeasurable growth.

If I could share anything that I have learned from these past two years, it would be patience and acceptance. You literally never know what other people are going through. Be sensitive to that. Anything worth having is going to take time. Be patient. Be patient with others, in rough situations (hey, at least you’re not waiting, in excruciating heat, 5 hours for a car that will most likely break down to fill up with people), and especially with yourself. Additionally, I encourage everyone to make mistakes. I will be forever grateful that I tried to learn another language. You will never sound more like a babbling moron than when you’re trying to communicate in another language. It’s incredibly humbling. Go for what you want and don’t get down if things don’t work out the way you planned. This experience certainly did not go the way I planned or expected but maybe it went just the way it should have.

I literally have no idea what the next chapter of my life holds but I am feeling optimistic. I’m going to try to remove my own selfish expectations of all the relationships in my life and enjoy every relationship for what it is. I’m going to forgive myself and others. I'm going to do my best to support the people who mean the most to me. I'm going to realize that while I've been over here having crazy experiences for the past two years, that doesn't mean the last two years have been any less crazy for people back home. Just because some people have clear direction in their lives doesn't mean I have a problem if I don’t. I’m going to apply for jobs that seem interesting but not get discouraged if I fail. I’m going to have a hard time but I’m going to get through it how I have the last two years, by laughing and learning through it all.

I will try to get out maybe one more post before this whole shebang wraps up but in the meantime, thanks again for staying with me for these crazy, amazing past couple of years.

Until the next time,


1 comment:

  1. Nice post, Alexx! Now, how about (to add to your pre-departure list) editing this down a bit for inclusion (no guarantee, but I like it, and want to be able to have it in the possibles mix) in our PC SENEGAL anthology of writings, which I'm amassing in my google docs drive. You make such good points about the new metrics requirements...K C