Reflecting on my decision to leave everything I’m comfortable with for 27 months.
I first started considering Peace Corps service before my last semester of college (Spring 2017). I realized that after my Student Teaching Semester™ I would graduate with my degree in Elementary Education, get certified, find a teaching job in central Texas, get used to the routine, and essentially be stuck here. I wasn’t starting to regret my degree choice; I was starting to resent the banality of this path for myself. I knew that if I did start down this road, I would either 1. Get burned out quickly and spend the next however many years of my life only looking forward to vacation days, sparking a mid-life crisis, or 2. I’d get too comfortable having a routine and realize 20 years later that I didn’t do what I had wanted to do, also sparking a mid-life crisis (accompanying song in my head: Mr. Richards by Frank Turner). There’s absolutely nothing wrong with teaching right out of college and establishing a great rapport with your school, but it’s not for me. I’m too restless yet too easily tempted by familiarity.
After countless hours of research and doing some serious personal inventory, Peace Corps service seemed like an invaluable opportunity and an unbelievably perfect fit for combining my love of learning, especially about different cultures, desire to further develop my empathy (definitely something everyone should seek to do due to the current political climate), love of teaching, willingness and ability to leave the United States for an extended amount of time, and an ongoing personal challenge of stepping way out of my comfort zone before I talk myself out of it. Deciding that I wanted to join the Peace Corps was the first major decision I had individually planned out and made by myself in my life (I’m only 22 so it’s not quite as dramatic as it sounds, but I like to think it’s still a little dramatic).
My extensive research helped me conclude that I wanted to apply for a position in Kosovo leaving May 31, 2018 (maybe my reasons for wanting to go to Kosovo can be another post). I then submitted my application, interviewed, accepted my invitation on November 1st, endured a month and a half of stressful medical tasks, took a stress break to watch my brother get married, waited (not so) patiently for medical and legal clearance, got both within 2 months of each other, completed various tasks and modules for the Peace Corps, and just booked my flight for staging* in Washington, DC yesterday.
The entire process happened so slowly and so quickly at the same time. In a little over a month, I’ll be flying to Kosovo with my fellow volunteers, starting my journey as a Peace Corps Trainee. A little less than a month ago I was in New Orleans on a trip with my best friends drinking too many Hurricanes and Hand Grenades and basking in the comfort of being in one of my favorite places with my favorite people. My first instinct is always to cling to what I’m familiar with, but I know myself well enough to know that complete familiarity comes with resentment. I often try to remind myself of Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote: “do one thing every day that scares you.” I’m hoping to make up for the days, weeks, years I’ve confined myself to my comfort zone with an adventure as big as joining the Peace Corps, but only time will really tell.
Because I knew the position in Kosovo didn’t leave until late May and I needed money as well as some flexibility to take trips to visit friends and family in different cities and states, I decided to work as a substitute teacher in the town I grew up in while crashing with my parents, staying in my childhood bedroom (to answer your question: yes, it has been as exciting and fast-paced as it sounds). While I’ve been subbing, I have often had to explain to teachers/aides/other adults who ask if I want to be a teacher that although I do have a degree in Elementary Education and am certified, I’m leaving for the Peace Corps at the end of May and I’m just subbing in the meantime.
That explanation has prompted a number of responses from people. Some responses have been so sweet, filled with well wishes and congratulations; one woman even told me stories about her Romani family which were super interesting and very much appreciated. However, the most common response I’ve gotten has been: “so… I kind of know… but what is the Peace Corps?” After briefly explaining an entire government organization to the best of my ability as quickly as possible before their attention is completely lost, I often got a follow-up comment of: “I would have loved to do that at that age, but _______.” The blank was usually completed with: “…I got married,” “…I had kids,” or simply: “…life got in the way.” Yikes. Though it was a bummer to meet so many people with unaddressed regrets, their responses also served as a selfish personal confirmation that yes, this is the right time for me (as it apparently is for a lot of people, in theory).
Subbing in a place as nice and friendly and comfortable as Georgetown, Texas has continuously reminded me how easy it would be to get a job here, or somewhere nearby, and be content. However, it has also served as a reminder that I don’t have to live this kind of life right now, or ever, and in the end, I really don’t want to.
Those reminders highlight my ongoing motivation to join the Peace Corps: I could be perfectly content if I stayed here in Texas, got a teaching job, became integrated into a school community, and spent my early mornings re-blogging relatable teacher posts on various social medias. But I don’t want to be content. I don’t want to look back in 10, 20, 30 years and think: remember when I almost did that thing?
So, I’m taking the leap. I’m doing that thing. Maybe my Peace Corps service will help me realize that no, I don’t like adventure or learning and yes, I like feeling stagnant, but as I type it out, I realize how ridiculous that sounds and how I’m not really taking that possibility seriously. Any experience that will help you learn more about yourself and help you grow as an individual is a worthy investment. If I don’t do it now, will I ever?
So… this is it. In 35 days I’ll be boarding a plane (my first plane since I was 5), and starting my adventure. It has been equal parts invigorating and terrifying talking myself through the next month before my departure and the 27 months following that. But throughout my entire pre-departure journey thus far, I have never doubted that this is what I’m supposed to do. It’s been a calming reassurance when I’m feeling overwhelmed, and I sincerely hope it transfers to when I’m serving overseas. I’m excited to have the possibility of truly feeling alive while saying goodbye to the contentedness of staying in my comfort zone.
In one of my favorite songs, Vienna by Billy Joel, the lyric: ‘only fools are satisfied’ has always resonated with me for some reason. And now I finally get it.
* = staging is where all the volunteers in your group (mine is KOS 5) meet up in a city in the US (ours is Washington, DC) before flying to your country of service together (Kosovo, Europe).