Saturday, January 2, 2016

Looking Forward by Looking Back: The Why

Welcome to 2016!! For the first couple weeks this year, I will be participating in the "Blogging Abroad Challenge."  The BloggingAbroad Community will receive a prompt each week via email and blogs will be featured at Blogging Abroad.  We begin the new year by looking back, where I've been and what's brought me here.  I hope that "leveling up" my blog will be an enriching experience for my readers as we launch into a new year together!

The journey to Peace Corps has been a long one.  I actually don’t remember when I first learned about the Peace Corps, but my love for travel and cultural exploration started in elementary school.  My interest in African culture (and fear of all arachnids) goes back to first grade when my class put on a play called “Ananzi the Spider.”  At home, I recall falling asleep each night listening to an audiobook named “Koi and the Kola Nuts.”  And, after my aunt and uncle returned from a trip to Ghana, I have fond memories of playing with a model fishing boat and dancing around in a gorgeous batik dress.  

Over the years, my family travelled around the United States, taking road trips to visit family, camping through the Canadian Eastern Provinces, and hiking in National Parks.  Each trip was highlighted by meeting strangers, learning about their culture and sharing parts of our own.  I used to despise my dad introducing himself to every random person at each road stop, but now relish my ability to make friends in any situation.  As we grew up, we had the opportunity to travel abroad, first to Israel where I was in awe of the people, the scenery and the chaos of a modern marketplace.  I prioritized learning languages throughout high school to enable me to participate vocally in the global community.

During my Junior year in High School, I became fascinated with Africa.  While everyone else chose to study the French Revolution in European History, I opted to research Colonialism, the Belgian Congo, and quickly became obsessed with the reign of King Leopold.  I knew that someday I would have to explore Africa on my own.

Although I spent my college years completing a degree in the sciences, I was adamant about building opportunities to study abroad.  I participated in a Global Medical Program setting up day clinics in rural Panama, taught Women’s reproductive health outside Varanasi, India, and finally touched down on African soil for a semester along the Swahili coast of East Africa.  My program focused on Islam and Swahili cultural identity and provided me with my first glimpse into the diversity of African cultures.  I officially caught the travel bug, and my desire to explore and share began to dominate my post graduate plans.

After graduating from college, I moved back home, somewhat discouraged by the declining job market but optimistic about what the future could hold.  It all came full circle when I was offered a job in Vientiane, Laos as a Program assistant for initiatives in land mine victim assistance, livelihood training and sustainable development.  I immediately fell in love with the Laotian culture, people, and food.  I saw the fruits of my labor and found fulfillment in working hand in hand to change the lives of others.  I began to question my desire to follow a career in medicine, seeking out opportunities that challenged me, brought me in contact with development and opened my eyes to the wealth of our global community. 

From Laos, I moved back to the States, enjoying two years in the medical field.  I enjoyed the work, was surrounded by intellectuals dedicated to changing lives, but felt that something was missing.  In July 2014, I decided to apply to the Peace Corps.  I was ready to pick up my life, dedicate over two years of service abroad and excited for the multitude of possibilities that the PC held.  I interviewed shortly after submitting an application and remember, with nervous excitement, opening an email with my nomination to Benin.

Several months past after that email and I had almost forgotten about Peace Corps.  I started to take on other responsibilities at work and established myself in the Boston area.  Every Tuesday, I volunteered in a free medical clinic and loved using my Spanish, and sometimes Swahili, to communicate with the patients.  In early December, I opened my email to find an invitation to join the Peace Corps.  Sitting at my desk at work, I broke into hives, excited and extremely terrified at the same time.  The next seven days were a blur of pro/con lists, calls with PC friends, encouragement from family, self-doubt and hours of research and Facebook stalking.  Right before the deadline, I accepted the invitation and took the plunge to join the Peace Corps family.

As I’ve written before, the decision to join the Peace Corps, and the months leading to staging in Washington, D.C., were not easy.  I had to say goodbye to friends, family and the comforts of home. The idea of leaving everything behind was scary, but mostly because I hadn’t realized how much I would gain from this experience; I can’t imagine not being here right now.  I have fallen in love with this country, learned to trust my instincts and found that the world really isn’t all that big.  

It’s a trite statement, but everything in life comes with making sacrifices.  Joining Peace Corps is no exception.  In accepting, I chose to enter into the unknown, prioritizing a commitment to the people of Benin and to the goals of a fifty plus year government organization. I hoped that the experience would be fulfilling, joyful and enlightening.  So far, it has been just that.

Grand Popo, Benin

It’s been a long road to Peace Corps, and the journey is far from over.  I thank everyone who has been there along the way and look forward to meeting all the strangers of tomorrow.  

<[1]Blogging Abroad's Boot Camp Blog Challenge: Starting January 2015>

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