I don’t care what anyone says. Peace Corps is hard. Volunteers struggle with a variety of obstacles ranging from the internal struggles taking place in our hearts and minds to the more obvious medical ailments that plague our physical bodies. Although each volunteer has a different melee of hurdles that are presented in his/her service, some common themes unite us all. In a similar vein, I believe that certain mantras can make our challenging lives quite a bit better. Most, if not all of these philosophies are incredibly corny, and I’m sure each has seen its fair share of the World Wide Web, but everyone needs a refresher once in a while… at least I do. And since this blog is written primarily for me, here are my top five mantras that I plan to carry with me into my second year of service.
- Say yes, and also no
Peace Corps is all about acquiring experiences. For example, almost getting eaten by a wolf, or drinking goat’s blood. Take away these unique stories, and you may just as well stay in America and teach at a poor inner city school. For this reason it is important to put yourself out there. Like REALLY out there. This requires saying yes to a lot of invitations which in normal circumstances (aka not in Mongolia) would warrant the appropriate response of turning oneself towards the exact opposite direction, and running far, far away. As Peace Corps does not have a extradite treaty for its volunteers, it’s best to keep within the limits of the Mongolian (and lets just tack on American) law.
Keeping that in mind, it is exhausting to be a THE foreigner. People will gawk at you on the street, students will laugh at your Mongolian language blunders, and to top it all off, it’s just so darn cold most of the time! To keep some semblance of sanity (and I say some, because if you come out of Peace Corps with complete mental stability, you most likely went about it wrong), it is important to let your mind and body have a breather once in a while. If you just can’t take another all-night party, or if you don’t feel that a certain event is safe, it’s okay to say no. In fact, sometimes it’s necessary. Being a good volunteer can only be achieved if you feel safe and secure in your environment. You have two years to do some weird s*#@. And trust me… you will.
- Don’t be so sensitive
I was born as sensitive as they come; I have spent far too much time worrying about offending others and becoming upset whenever my greetings were met with a frown. Coming to Mongolia was a shock to the system. As an outsider, I continuously made embarrassing mistakes, with teachers gossiping about me to no end. Finally, I reached a breaking point. I realized I had to stop caring what others thought, or give up. As I am also quite stubborn, I chose the former. From then on I have acted the way I thought appropriate and stopped letting others dictate my opinions of my own actions. In all reality, people will always gossip, here or stateside, and as a foreigner I will always appear silly, no matter what I do. So it’s really a choice of to what degree you let these facts impact you. Personally, I feel that embarrassment has no place in the Peace Corp… or the rest of my life.
- Just do you
This builds off of number two. There’s no perfect volunteer. And even if there is, it’s not gonna be you. Don’t base your experience off of some far-fetched ideal of what the ideal volunteer should look like. If you’re good at sports, that’s great. If you’re not, your village will not kick you out. They may bitch and moan about how the other volunteer one site over is Ms. Athletic (yeah, that’s right Abby), but they’ll also lord over other schools how THEIR volunteer chops her own wood and teaches students piano. Build up your life and work based on where your own interests and personality and your community’s intersect.
- Say what you mean, and do what you say
This is a basic idea. Be (reasonably) truthful with your friends and counterparts. From your end, model what a good relationship should look like, and what you expect from them. Secondly, if you want trust you need to earn it. Spouting off hundreds of grand ideas and accomplishing none is no way to gain support. Wisely choose a course of action, and put major effort into achieving it.
- It’s just life.
Besides the obvious worries of extreme poverty or catastrophic accidents, life is full of as many or few worries as you make of it. Pulling out hair over gaining weight or worrying that a CP will miss class again is time and energy down the drain. If something makes you terribly angry, fix it or remove it from your life. Anything else isn’t worth conjuring up negative energy for. As they say, “don’t sweat the small stuff”. Happiness can often be a consciousness choice, so why not choose it?