It’s difficult to generalize what being a Peace Corps Volunteer is like. There are many variables. Your experience comes down to your country of service, your job in that country, your community, how you live, how well integrated and adjusted you are. It’s extremely personal. Not only is it based on personal circumstance—it depends primarily on your attitude and outlook.
Being a PCV is challenging. You can prepare for some challenges, but there will be others you can’t even conceive would be problems because a) you don’t know a particular thing about yourself or b) you don’t know a particular thing about what it will be like to live in your country of service. And there are many other reasons in between.
Being a PCV can get lonely. Unless you are married and volunteering with your spouse, you will spend most of your time by yourself in a community filled with strangers whom you can’t easily talk to and who probably don’t understand anything you do. You will be an oddity and you will be a rock star. You will have a ton of attention and you will have times of infinite solitude, which can translate to boredom, if you take on that attitude.
Being a PCV can be frustrating. Not being able to communicate exactly how you’d like is exhausting. Not having control over how you live, eat, sleep, etc. can become more of a problem than you’d initially expect. At home, we are almost always comfortable. As a PCV you learn the art of being uncomfortable—in a myriad of situations and with positivity—and it’s probably the best skill you will take away from this experience.
For me, doing my job is the most frustrating aspect of being a PCV. I joined to help people, but the reality is that to truly be effective in helping anyone, you must understand their needs and enable their own self-development. Figuring out what that even means is the first step—and I’m still working on that. Two years seems like a long time for anything, but I’m almost a year in and I’m still learning about the educational system in Indonesia and dealing with the huge gap between this professional environment, and what I believed to be a “professional environment” at home.
Being a PCV is hard work. Unlike jobs I’ve held at home, which lasts for 8 hours from one set time to another, this job is literally full time. You do your job during the day, and you go home to integrate with your community or spend time with people who may be lovely, but will require acrobatic use of your limited language skills and often, limitless patience.
For me, being an Education Volunteer in Indonesia has had its trials, but most days, I am content. As a new teacher in a completely alien system, doing my job efficiently has been a huge personal challenge. I’m used to efficiency. Here it’s a rare thing to behold. There are days I feel productive and as if I’m accomplishing what I need to do, and others in which I’m suspended in a state of indefinite purpose. On those days, I fantasize about quitting and doing something more fulfilling. This feeling is always temporary.
As for living in a foreign country and immersing myself in Indonesian culture in a primarily Muslim community—well, I love it. That’s another main reason why I joined. Though sometimes, our cultural differences are great, everyone in my life has made my life a dream and I appreciate them everyday. Other people haven’t been as lucky. For the most part, I can be myself and though I don’t intend to stay forever—though Indonesians love to insist that I will/should—I am happy to be spending two years here.
Being a Peace Corps Volunteer has been one of the most interesting experiences of my life so far. There’s nothing like this rare opportunity to get to know another country and culture in this intimate way. And though teaching in Indonesia can be exasperating at times, it’s still the most rewarding job I’ve ever had and joining was the best decision I could have made.