As my two years of service comes to a close, I assume that I am supposed to feel some grandiose sense of relief, happiness, or accomplishment. This incredibly life changing experience is about to come to finish, but honestly all I can do is worry about whether my World Trade Center flip flops are appropriate plane attire and how you say “dramamine” in Spanish–my stomach doesn’t really like planes, trains and automobiles, which isn’t a problem in Senegal since most people here are pukers too, but I have a feeling that people in the western world will not appreciate my puking-into-a-ziplock-and-double-wrapping-it-in-a-black-plastic-bag routine.
Anyways, in an effort to be introspective and deep (also, just in case someone ever writes a biography about me—I don’t want them to write that these were my “drunken, animal slaughtering, bike riding, semi-lucid Peace Corps years”) I have made a list of the tangible and intangible ways that Peace Corps changed me.
I’ve become fluent in a second language. And I didn’t do this because it would look good on my resume, or because it was a requirement of my college major—I did it because I came to love my city, my new country and my new family. I learned Pulaar for them. I learned Pulaar so that I could connect with them and share my life with them.
I learned to live in the moment. To stop micromanaging my life. My Peace Corps service taught me that life is better when plans are loose and spontaneity is embraced.
I’ve become infinitely more humble. The things that gave me confidence the USA—my intelligence and (ahem, damn good) looks—did not translate to Senegal. Intelligence in Senegal isn’t measured by how many degrees you have, but instead by the wrinkles on your face. And without clean hair, nice clothes, high heels and makeup it’s hard to feel beautiful. Stripped of these things I listened more and spoke less. I was a more effective volunteer because of this.
And most importantly—I’ve learned to laugh. Peace Corps service is impossibly hard and if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry. And eventually my tear ducts became so dehydrated from the hot African sun I was left with no other choice but laugh. So I laughed. I laughed a lot.
Disclaimer: The contents of this blog are mine alone and do not represent the positions or views of the U.S. Government or the U.S. Peace Corps.