This week I’m in the Peace Corps office in Asuncion to meet the new Environmental Conservation Peace Corps trainees that just arrived at the end of September. This special occasion means I’ve finally passed the one-year mark for my time in Paraguay, also the longest period of time I’ve yet been outside my home country. So it seems fitting for me to take this minute and share some of my reflections on a variety of topics from my new viewpoint.
The things I miss
Of course being gone from my homeland for over a year now has made me realize some of the material things that I miss. Things like Raisinettes, cookie dough ice cream, apple sauce, good cheeses of more than one variety, fast and reliable internet to name a few. I lack of reliable internet access is probably the most missed material thing on the list. I’ve felt quite disconnected from the outside world. Back in the States I was a news junkie. Now here I usually have no idea what’s going on in the world. I only hear random news every once in a while but it’s definitely not the daily or even weekly updates I was once accustomed to. I also feel really disconnected from American pop-culture.
What music is on the radio these days? Surely Party Rock’s “I’m Sexy and I Know It” can’t still be as popular in America as it is down here. What youtube hits have come out over the past year? Surely there has to have been some good ones. In my year + in PY I’ve only yet had one night to watch youtube videos and as they were with fellow volunteers they were all mostly PC related and also very old. What movies have come out? I did get to catch a bit of the Oscars live broadcast but have no idea about any of the movies that received awards. And, technology. I know Facebook finally made me change my profile again but the last time I was in the States QR codes were the next big thing and Google was still trying with its social networking concept. Surely there has been some more exciting stuff since that.
But more importantly than pop-culture and news I have missed any good communication with friends and family back home. Thanks to all those that have sent me things. It always is such a nice surprise to find a letter or card waiting for me and while the mail system is super slow I have no problem waiting these days.
After growing up with a desire to travel as far away from my hometown as possible I find it quite surprising how often I think about my home country and even my hometown these days. I have found a greater appreciation in certain important aspects of the American society things like the value of volunteerism, respect for the law and, believe it or not, our education system. That’s right, after being a pretty strong critic of the American education system, my integration into the Paraguayan ed system has reminded me that the American education system actually has a lot of great merits. Teachers and students really do seem to take it more seriously, time in the classroom is actually much greater state-side and critical thinking and more hands-on learning, two foreign concepts here in Paraguay, do seem to have a good impact on students’ overall success in the States.
Before arriving in Paraguay I considered myself a quite flexible person but Paraguay has definitely taught me a thing or two more about going with the flow and being willing to drop your plans for the day when a new opportunity arises. With PC’s strong focus on cultural exchange and integration into the community I oftentimes feel like it’s my job to willingly drop whatever I’m doing if someone asks me to play soccer, watch a movie or go to some social event.
Reflections on Peace Corps:
So, what is Peace Corps? I’ve been asked that question in 3 languages now and still have no idea how to answer it correctly in any of the 3. Taking the advice of a friend I’ve focused on looking at my Peace Corps service more as a cultural exchange program than anything dealing with “international development.” I’ve heard too many stories of past and current volunteers losing all sense of idealism when going in with the idea of “I’m going to make a difference.” So, to protect at least some of my idealism, I’ve chosen to first and foremost focus my efforts on the cultural exchange part, which I think is really important for all those involved. Then, if any positive changes take place in my community that’s cool too but if not I at least will not finish my service having given up the dream of making a better world.
This first year has already made me much more realistic when it comes to development and such but I would prefer to retain at least a little hope. My first year experience and chats with volunteers and PC staff has also led me to the conclusion that honestly Peace Corps is much more focused on developing the volunteers who are serving than the actual communities. PC Service is just such an interesting thing that you can’t help but learn 1 million new things about yourself, the world and so much more and all of that is sure to help me and other volunteers no matter where we end up after our service. If PC really wanted to focus more on the host countries than it would make more sense to send young adults from the host countries to America for a 2-year volunteer service. But for now it seems there’s no such program.
So, I haven’t yet become magically fluent in either Spanish or Guarani but I have learned that’s not the important thing. What’s important is being able to communicate and that can be done with hand gestures, strange looks and, yes, laughter. So, yes, my Spanish has improved a TON and I now understand just about 100% of what I hear expect for random new vocabulary and my Guarani has also improved but I’m definitely not fluent “and that’s fine” because it’s really not necessary.
I continue to learn to make more with less. Finally I’ve mastered a homemade brownie recipe and I’ve also learned to make cream cheese by straining yogurt overnight with a handerkerchiefJ
BPC (Before Peace Corps) my only gardening experience was with growing transplants bought from Lowes or the like in a small patch of soil (maybe 2 tomato plants, 2 pepper plants, strawberries and a few random herbs.) Now here in Paraguay I’ve finally got a real garden, or at least half of one as the other half of my fenced in area has yet to be planted. All of the veggies and herbs I’ve got were also all grown from seed and it’s surprisingly not as hard as I thought. In fact, though it’s been difficult finding time to prepare new beds in the garden I’ve found that once things are planting it’s pretty easy to maintain with twice daily watering.
Since arriving in Paraguay I’ve found that most of my pre-PC expectations couldn’t have been more wrong. I definitely expected to travel more and for some reason didn’t think I’d be watching any movies. I also expected to be placed in a much more rural place with a much more basic living situation. I never thought I’d have a shower with hot water and a lawn that required mowing. I feel extremely fortunate on one hand but I also sometimes feel guilty or even sometimes I wish I could have the more stereotypical Peace Corps experience. I’ve also always been a huge animal lover which has made it a little surprising that I’ve gone a year without adopting any four-legged friends like many of my fellow volunteers.
So, those are just some of my reflections from a year in Peace Corps Paraguay. I really do miss all my friends and fam. Feel free to shoot me any questions and also for the more US pop-culture informed feel free to fill me in on what’s up with what these days.
Thanks again for reading and hopefully I’ll do a better job at getting some more interesting posts and maybe even some pics on here one of these days. Jahechata!