November 18 marks one year since I returned to the United States, so I’m writing a bit about the feelings I’ve experienced since returning home.
Did That Really Happen?
During my Close of Service conference, we were given advice on saying goodbye to our communities and reintegrating back into society. What stuck with me was a warning to stay away from superstores like Costco and a reminder that finding a job could take time. What they did not mention was that I might feel as though my entire service was a hallucination.
Returning to America meant returning to the daily life I already knew. While some things had changed (Snapchat, iPhones, apple pay), the big ones hadn’t (my loved ones, driving, social norms). This made it easy to pretend as though I’d been here all along, living my life in the U.S. It honestly wasn’t until someone asked about Peace Corps or I got to speak Spanish that I remembered; oh hey Peru wasn’t just a dream, it was my life for two years.
I’m an Outsider
I specifically remember a time at work a couple of months after I’d returned where, in a conversation about pedicures, I revealed that one of my toenails grows strangely because of a bug that had been living in it for a while. My coworkers stared as I added quickly “but it’s gone now, the doctor dug out all the eggs.”
Peace Corps makes you that weirdo who doesn’t flinch at pooping your pants or parasites and makes you feel like bathing every day (or even every other) is just a waste of water.
I also had too many interactions where people really wanted to hear about my experiences until they totally didn’t five minutes later. They wanted to hear me marvel about the beauty of a country and it’s perfect people, they did not want to hear about the reality of my time there. Which is a bit disheartening.
Keeping Everything Private
As you can imagine, that last one leads to Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) shutting down. At the end of service they tell us to pick 1-2 sentences to describe our service so that we could tell people a short tidbit without going into detail. This is what I fell back on after the first few times I’d told people the whole truth and gotten a strange reaction.
My phrase was “well, it was the best and worse two years of my life *laugh*”
After a while it’s just easier not to explain it all and watch faces light up only to be extinguished too soon. The ones who really want to know, keep asking.
At the end of the day, through loneliness and isolation, being an RPCV makes me proud. During my service, I grew professionally and personally. I learned a second language and how to write a grant application, how to implement a project plan and navigate social norms. More than that, I learned how to handle stress and anxiety, how to confront my fears and channel them into positive action.
I’m proud of the person I’ve become because of Peace Corps and the work that I did in my community. Even if I might not always seem like it.
Happy Anniversary, Peace Corps.
Best of luck.