It’s funny to think back on April 2012. Then, I walked into a D.C. hotel conference room full of aspiring PCVs, their adventurous spirits alight with excitement. Now, 23 months later, I walk into another hotel conference room and meet these same PCVs, except now, there is a sense of tranquility in the room—a mellowness that’s characteristic of (mostly) well-adjusted people who are undisturbed by, and accepting of, their environment.
In this room, I overhear and participate in quiet conversations about what comes after Peace Corps. Some plan to get married to their long-term significant others, and others just plan to settle down in a place they can call home. Grandiose plans of living abroad indefinitely are unceremoniously abandoned. Vivid descriptions of what would embody happiness ensue. I can’t decide if it’s due to getting older or if it’s because of this experience, but it appears that this is how Peace Corps changes you: You come here seeking adventure and independence, and you leave here seeking roots and appreciating the idea of home. This doesn’t apply to everyone, of course. I could see my life going many ways, but it would be a new experience to be geographically close to people I love, which defines my idea of the term ‘home.’
But moving on…
Crazy, huh? There are barely 4 months left of Peace Corps and time is flying. With the application process, it took me about a year to get into Peace Corps. Now, I’m at the last stretch of it, which means it’s time to think about the future. I mean, we already got our official Close of Service (COS) dates, so who’s to blame us?
It’s more than a little unfortunate that one must think so far ahead. I’m trying to do things here and live in Indonesia, yet, I find myself holding more and more conversations about grad school, travel plans, and other considerations for what comes next.
But back to here. After In-Service Training (IST), I wrote about my suasana hati or the “environment of my heart,” so for the sake of comparison I’m going to do it again.
What’s the “environment of my heart” after our COS Conference?
About Peace Corps
I must admit that I’m not the “school-spirit” type. I’m not one to brag about Peace Corps, depend heavily on staff, have a ton of PC memorabilia, or go on and on about how great it is, or how great PCVs are, BUT—I might have to change that.
Peace Corps—and particularly, Peace Corps Indonesia —is a pretty awesome organization. It takes time to get to know people, and even more time to truly appreciate them, and after almost two years, I can safely say that the PC staff (shout out to Sheila and Dr. Nelsine) and all of the PCVs in Indonesia are some of the most interesting people I know. Their dedication, open-mindedness, and just their plain ability to be here, thriving, teaching and accomplishing a variety of projects is amazing. I’m proud of them—and most of all, I’m proud to be part of them.
About Bondowoso (a.k.a. Site)
After being in Malang/Surabaya for a week, I felt a wave of relief when I got back to site. Upon living here for two years, site is home, albeit, a temporary one. It’s heartwarming to arrive with a huge backpack on my back and have neighbors ride up on their bicycles to greet me. My school’s groundskeeper waves at me from a distance, asking me “Sudah datang?/ You already arrived?” while a few students walking around my neighborhood yell out “Hi, Miss!” Though my room is small, it’s comfortable. Hotels are a great change of pace, but it’s nice not to live out of a suitcase anymore.
About My PC Mood Chart
According to the Peace Corps mood charts we are given during training, I was supposed to be going through a second-year slump last semester. I nearly skipped it, and then—as it’s said—when it rains it pours.
Pretty much everything that could go wrong went wrong at the end of last semester. Teaching was rough, I had to change host families, my computer decided to quit—which caused me to lose a lot of teaching material—and thinking so much about the future due to grad school applications was THE. MOST. STRESSFUL. TIME. EVER.
Thanks to my parents (and my own foresight to realize that I would need it), I was able to go home for Christmas and spend it with my family and close friends. This successfully stabilized my mood and recharged my will to give the last part of Peace Corps my all.
About My Work Here
As I’ve said before, one could always do more; yet, I’m content with what I’ve accomplished so far, the biggest thing being the IGLOW Camp back in March. It makes perfect sense why Peace Corps is a two-year commitment. The first year you’re thrown into a tumultuous sea, forced to go with the flow. Then, during the second year, you can actually be productive.
Thanks to IGLOW and some teaching successes during my first year, I feel ahead of the game. IGLOW 2014 is currently under development, and it’s already a million times easier than last year. My school is, as always, amazing and 100% with me as we prepare to make this year’s camp open to both girls and boys. Thanks to my brilliant student, Adhit, IGLOW will now stand for Indonesian GENERATIONS Leading Our World. I’m so proud of his ingenuity!
Also, our Sustainability Conference lit a fire under my counterpart as it finally registered that I am a limited resource. As a result, we have many plans to ensure sustainability and so far, his attitude is encouraging. The past three days have been so productive that had it been this way from day one, all my kids would be fluent. (Ha, wishful thinking.) I’m almost tempted to extend for a third year just to keep this momentum. Almost.
Truthfully, I don’t love teaching English in Indonesia, but if my primary assignment solely focused on youth development or another type of education, I would be more eager to stay. Currently, I feel like I’ll be leaving at the height of my effectiveness. The great thing about Peace Corps, however, is that it clarified that development is exactly what I should be doing and I plan to continue down this path. I enjoy this type of work; no job has ever been so rewarding. I love that I spend most of my days interacting with a community, talking to neighbors, training teachers and teaching students. This is an element that was missing for me in past jobs. I’m actually connecting with people and DOING something other than sitting in front of a computer all day. (Though, realistically, I get plenty of that, too.)
About Working With Counterparts
During our conference, Okhee brought up something that resonated with me. She illustrated how our assigned site is like being dealt cards in a poker game. We are given a set of variables we can’t control and we do the best we can with it. Some people are lucky, and get the most enthusiastic teachers as counterparts. Others, like me, get all middle-age, male counterparts who are set in their teaching ways and often, loaded with duties outside their 30+ hours in school. It has been challenging.
After trying to chase around grown men to plan and work with me during my first year, I’ve spent my second year focused on my one counterpart who is truly passionate about teaching. Still, he’s incredibly busy. He’s the head of the mosque and is often involved in those activities. He’s also my main link into the school community, so he’s often running around with me advocating for and supporting activities like IGLOW. I could have never lasted two years without my counterpart, Pak Warai, and I am incredibly grateful to his dedication to our work together.
The most surprising thing about being home in Ecuador was how natural it all was. I hadn’t seen most of my family for almost two years, and yet I slipped back into their lives without extensive need to integrate or readjust. It’s true that 2 years of Peace Corps will not erase 20+ years of living in your home country.
Still, it’s alarming. It’s not that I expected Peace Corps to “change me” fundamentally. From my own personal assessment—and from comments from close friends back home— nothing major has shifted. But I’m weary of getting back into a society that’s ruled by consumerism, excess and wastefulness, which is very much removed from my simple and eco-friendly life as a PCV. I guess that will all be part of my transition into a “real person” (meaning not this transient PCV version of myself) once again, which is a less exciting prospect than I thought it would be.
And finally, and unsurprisingly, the main personal reason not to extend: Indonesia is literally thousands of miles away from my friends and family, which is mostly ok because of Skype, iMessage and WhatsApp – but it’s not the same. Here I am treated like family, but I’m very much an other to anyone who doesn’t know me outside of my community. Also, anyone my age is married, with one or two children, which makes me even more of an outsider. I fit in best with my high school students, and though I love them, we are definitely on different mental and emotional planes. Every time I spend an extended amount of time with my PCV friends (as I did last week), it’s tough to readjust to the isolation of PCV life once again. Now I realize how much I miss these kinds of friends—and how eager I am to enjoy these friendships at a higher frequency.
On Ending Peace Corps
Because our COS Conference was cut a little short due to Mt. Kelud erupting, it wasn’t until after the conference ended that I had some real conversations and thoughts on “the end of Peace Corps.” I can’t help being extremely aware that this is the culmination of one of my longest dreams. I did it, and it will be over soon. While I could always join Peace Corps again in the future, this is the end of an era that could never be repeated. And what comes next – well, as my counterpart would love to say, it’s up in the air.
The end of Peace Corps also marks the end of my life in Indonesia, and hardly a day goes by when I don’t think about how sad it will be to say goodbye to people that have taken me into their lives for the past 23 months. When you leave home, you know that at some point you will go back, but it’s a very real possibility that I will never meet any of my friends here again, and such a definite ending to any good relationship is distressing.
The same goes with PCV friends. When we first came into this we were all strangers, joined at random by this unique mission. Now, the majority of us are good friends. When we go back to America, we will disperse back into the cities, states and even, countries, we come from and though we never had abundant opportunities to hang out together as PCVs, this time, those opportunities will have to come from our own dedication to keeping in touch and meeting up. I’m not really worried about this. Some of my PCV friends have become really close friends, and I’m accustomed to having long-distance friendships. But still—it wasn’t until I heard two PCVs talk about how they should meet up in Florida during the summer that the usual “See you in a few months!” farewell took an entirely new meaning.
And that abruptly concludes my suasana hati. There are a lot of feelings written here, and even more that will go unwritten. But, most days, I’m too busy and focused to dwell on “the end” or “the future.” Undoubtedly, I have to do some planning for the future now, but I’m not anxiously counting down days as I was during the awful parts of the last semester. It’s all coming fast, but I’m doing my best to stay present in the present.