On the Eve of Swearing-in as a Peace Corps Volunteer

This post was written September 7, 2017

It’s hard to believe that only three months ago I left Memphis with two suitcases almost as tall as me. I remember sobbing all the way through security (which wasn’t that long, because it’s Memphis) and waving goodbye to my dad…that was heartbreaking. Fast-forward to last month when I got sick and had to leave my training site in Montasoa to go see the PC doctors in Tana. I called my dad over WhatsApp and told him the truth (my sickness was minor, but my fear was major). I sobbed again and said, for the first time,

“What if I can’t actually do this?”

I don’t like feeling afraid. It makes me think I’m weak, and feeling weak to me means feeling helpless, which means I have to reach out to people when I’m in trouble, which I fundamentally despise. I know that this is my own pride, wanting so desperately to be good at everything and have all the answers and never have to rely on anyone else to get me there.  In training we talked a lot about the courage to show up and be vulnerable, to admit that you don’t have all the answers but you are willing to try.

I’ve tried so hard to be independent and fearless, yet now that I’ve come into the world of global development with Peace Corps, I’m starting to realize this very important truth: development relies on collaboration. And not just collaboration on projects or budgets or lesson plans; it requires whole-hearted, empathetic, humanitarian collaboration. It means having the courage to look someone in the face and say, “I see you. I am here. Let us work together.”

That means being messy. That means being wrong. That means letting others see your weaknesses so that you can say “this didn’t work. Let’s try again.” And then have the courage to try again and again and again.

From Memphis to Montasoa, these past three months of Pre-Service training have been so intense: emotionally, physically, and intellectually. It’s difficult to put into words exactly how I feel on the eve of Swear-In because I frankly haven’t had enough time to think about it. Sometimes the language, the training, the constant input makes it impossible for me to think about anything other than the immediate moment: communicate effectively, plan the lesson, eat the beans and rice, walk over the bumps in the road to get to class. It’s almost like being on autopilot.

I’ve heard from other volunteers that PST is the hardest part. You have to give up a lot of autonomy and trust an organization that you barely know, staff you’ve barely met, and function mostly in a language that is not your own. But despite all these odds, I am terribly excited to install and I’m so excited to be a Peace Corps volunteer. It’s the mess that I like…though I know that as volunteers we are held to a high standard of conduct and appearance…the mess is all around us. And in this mess is where we find the beauty.

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Pre-Service Training hike to the top of the cell tower in Montasoa

 

3 Comments

  1. Anna Mae Schroeder says:

    Is this the space that I can make my comments? Hi, Melanie, it is 1:15 p.m. Sept 7, ’17, and I am thinking of you. Probably each and every Peace Corps Volunteer is doing the best they can. I hope that everyone is sleeping overnight and doing what they must, daytime. It would be so nice to have happy times to lift spirits, also. I really like “Another Adventure”, my darling Melanie! Peace Corps Volunteers are on my Prayer List. Hugs galore and lots of love, Grannamae. XXXXXXXXXXX0000000000000

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    1. melbell51 says:

      Hi Grannamae! I am so happy to hear from you. We are all so excited to become volunteers and my friends say thank you for your love and prayers 🙂 I love you so much!

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  2. Emily Stanek says:

    I’m so unbelievably proud of you! I loved hearing about your thoughts and feelings. Best of luck on your adventure as an official volunteer! ❤️

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