After having been on vacation in the United States for two weeks, adjusting back to Paraguay has been much harder than I thought it would be. In fact, I didn’t expect it at all, so it was a big shock.
A year ago I left for the United States after being in the Peace Corps for 6 months, and I was in a hard place. I had just hit the 4-month mark in Caazapá, and I was struggling a lot with my role as a Peace Corps Volunteer and as an American within my community. I didn’t speak Spanish or Guaraní that well and didn’t have very many good friends in my site. Coming back to the United States was amazing, and I left feeling completely refreshed and excited to come back to Paraguay.
This year, I left for the United States in a very different place than I was last time. I felt happy, confident, and secure in my site, Caazapá. I had some great projects going, truly wonderful friends, a house and space I felt very comfortable in, and I felt I had really integrated well into my community. Plus, my Spanish-speaking skills are great now, if I do say so myself.
But this time, the United States really messed with my head. I had grown so used to living in Paraguay that I forgot what it was like being in the United States. And let me tell you guys- living in the United States is AWESOME. There’s air conditioning, hot showers, phones that will deliver mail to you the second it arrives, Netflix, unlimited wi-fi, a huge array of food that you can have delivered right to your door (!!!), the ocean, CHEESE (don’t get me started), and so many fun things you could do at any moment it is quite literally overwhelming. There’s meet-ups, movies to see in theaters, roller-blading, sports games to either watch or play in, concerts- it seems like there’s things to do at all hours of the day, every day. I could literally sit in a chair at the airport and just watch people walk by, and I was overwhelmingly entertained and content.
Additionally, the United States just felt so easy- everything ran on time (even though I usually didn’t), nothing broke down, people showed up to things, everyone all spoke the same language- while living in Paraguay is a challenge every single day. Whether it’s my house flooding, finding green chunks in my drinking water, standing on a bus for 5 hours, or trying to implement projects or meetings – the United States felt like a piece of cake.
And truly, nothing compares to being surrounded by the people who love you most in the world. Being around my entire family felt so incredible. Seeing all of my closest friends from high school, college, and my travels felt amazing. Cuddling with my dog that I brought back from India- there’s no comparison.
Yet one by one, those experiences slipped from my fingers and I faced the upcoming reality of returning back to Paraguay, which suddenly didn’t seem nearly as appealing as before. Tarantulas and 115 degree weather with nothing but a fan to keep me company was suddenly not my idea of the best time ever. Additionally, I had to face the reality that many of my friends in the United States were going through huge life-changing events, and I wasn’t there for them. My best friend just got engaged, and I don’t even know if I can make it to his wedding. One of my close friends is having a baby, while another one is going through a really hard time period. I cannot physically be there to celebrate with them, or to support them. And though eight more months seems really fast, when you can measure it in how much taller your 12-year-old sister has gotten, it can feel like a lifetime.
Thus, I returned back to Paraguay shell-shocked, and not ready to return. The first few days I moped around in a hotel in Asunción, half-heartedly running around to meetings for Jóvenes Empresarios del Paraguay. I threw myself a giant pity party, dreaming of Starbucks ( I don’t even drink coffee) and huddling under covers watching America’s Next Top Model re-runs. I finally mustered the courage to figuratively slap myself straight and get on a 5-hour bus ride back to Caazapá.
And wouldn’t you know it- the second I stepped out of the bus, my two best friends arrived on their motorcycles, grinning from ear to ear and assaulting me with bear hugs. My friend Liz hopped off her moto and took my giant suitcase from me, while my other friend Dennis took my backpack. We started the long walk back to my house, laughing, cracking inside jokes, and greeting everyone we passed. I was met by one of my closest friends and fellow Peace Corps Volunteer Zoe, who lives a two-hour walk from me. We cooked a giant dinner of Pad Thai as my neighbors stopped by, one by one, to tell me how much they had missed me.
Celebrating my return to Paraguay with Pad Thai!
My Peace Corps boss Elisa has told me over and over again- the most important aspect of the Peace Corps is establishing relationships. I felt so humbled and additionally so stupid for throwing myself a giant pity party and not focusing on the greatest things about my service: the relationships I’ve made in Caazapá, and the wonderful community of people I’m surrounded by. Since coming back to Caazapá, I’ve felt so much better about my return.
The United States is a wonderful place- but so is Paraguay. I’m glad to be back. Every day may not be the best day, but I’m happy I still have eight more months left to live in this incredible country. And while I know there are so many things that the United States has to offer, and that I have so much love and incredible friendships and family there- it will all be waiting for me when I come back.
Basically, my life is incredible and I should be so grateful for everything I have in my life. I am one lucky girl.
Filed under: USA
The past two weeks I have been on complete vacation mode: I went back to the United States! It was a much-needed period of rest, relaxation, and seeing so many wonderful friends and family. I completely forewent my resolution of posting once every Sunday on this blog- whoops- I was sucked into such a vortex of complete enjoyment and intense traveling that two weeks flashed by in one huge happy instant. In fact, I did not even take ONE photo of the past two weeks- well, except for this one:
My uncle celebrating our post-Thanksgiving feast with a food coma.
Some of the highlights of my trip included:
- Seeing my cousin get married! I basically came back to the US in November for his wedding, and it was an incredible event. There was a lot of dancing, photo-boothing (yes, they had a photobooth there!), eating incredible food (my favorite was the mashed potato bar), and just laughing with family. My grandmother also impressed all of us with her moves on the dance floor- but she DID dance on broadway, so I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.
- Seeing all of my best friends from Global College for a special reunion in Pennsylvania! All of my closest friends that traveled with me for a year throughout four countries studying religion and culture through Global College’s ‘CRC Program’ came to be together and brunch at my aunt’s house. It was so great seeing them again and spending an afternoon updating and reminiscing.
- A special trip out to San Francisco for a few days! I love the city and have a huge number of close friends there, and it was great to be back in California, where I lived for nearly two years before Global College. I spent time with some wonderful friends from all time periods of my life, and they all met each other at a special Greek dinner. I also visited Stanford and UC Berkeley’s MBA programs. I was very impressed by both, and I plan to apply next year.
- Spending a blissful week at home in Florida with my immediate family. I didn’t do all that much except cuddle with my dog, play Super Mario and watch Star Wars with my little sisters, and eat my Mom’s incredible home-cooked meals. I also got to visit a few of my best friends from high school, which was fantastic. My mom spoiled me rotten by taking me grocery shopping (I brought a LOT of food back with me to Paraguay!) and buying me new running shoes. My parents also gave me all of my Christmas presents early, and a Christmas stocking stuffed with goodies inside of a plastic bag that I can’t open until Christmas! I may or may not have also spent the better part of 2 hours inside of a Publix grocery store walking up and down aisles, throwing random things into a cart, and then putting them back. This is what culture shock does to you!
- Spending Thanksgiving in Pennsylvania with my Mom’s side of the family. I have to say, nothing ever feels so good. We all have Thanksgiving once every two years together (we alternate every year between Thanksgiving and Christmas)- Truly, Thanksgiving with my Mom’s side of the family is always my favorite holiday. My aunts and cousins each have their special appetizers and desserts they always make, my grandfather buys special cheeses, and my grandmother cooks a huge feast that is the best meal you will ever eat. As usual, we had about 4 times the amount of food than was necessary. One of my best (and recently engaged!) friends spent Thanksgiving with us, and for the first time my grandmother taught me how she makes a Thanksgiving turkey!
- Lounging around for two days after Thanksgiving with my cousins and aunts and uncles, eating leftovers and my grandfather’s ‘Thanksgiving sandwiches’ (which really are the best part of Thanksgiving). We watched a marathon of movies, went shopping, and drank way too many Starbucks coffee. It really was the best holiday ever.
I’m now back in Paraguay. It was initially hard to leave the United States, where life is so full of creature comforts, close friends, and family. Paraguay can sometimes be such a huge challenge with a lot of hardship, and life felt so easy in the United States: hot showers, great and convenient food, a loving family, friends that care about me, and a life pretty bug-free. But I’m ready to be back here and to finish up the 8 months of service I have left. I’m ready to go back to the incredible friendships I have in my community, the projects I’ve worked hard to establish in Paraguay, and fully appreciate the tranquilo tereré lifestyle while I still have it.
But while I may miss the United States, the BEST part about it will be coming to me here- my parents and possibly little sisters are coming to see me in Paraguay!!!! More details to come, but it definitely was the best gift I could have received while being home!
I have so much to be thankful for, and being home for Thanksgiving was the perfect reminder. Here’s to my family, my friends, and to all of the wonderful things I have in my life- including my wonderful Paraguay.
Is it your ultimate dream to join the Peace Corps? Have you been anxiously waiting for months to hear about the next step of your application process, or an invitation? Do you feel frustrated, confused, impatient, and sometimes (yes, sometimes) just ready to give it all up?
DON’T! The Peace Corps is worth the wait. Here’s why:
I, like you, was one of those impatient applicants who did everything in their power to secure an invitation. My application process was one of the long ones: it took me nearly two years from the start of my application to leave for the Peace Corps. This was partially because I told my Peace Corps recruiter of a relationship I planned to be in the Peace Corps, and when we broke up shortly afterwards, they extended my wait time for a year because I had ‘gone through a significant life change’ (I don’t recommend voluntarily offering this information to your recruiter). I was also kept on hold for three nerve-wracking, sleepless (and completely silent from the Peace Corps-end) months between getting medically cleared and finishing all my paperwork, and actually receiving an invitation. I kept being promised ‘Your invitation will be in the mail in a few weeks,’ with an assured leave date of February 2011 to Central America. I held faith, didn’t apply to any other jobs, and stuck it out at my parents house unemployed, waiting for a phone call or letter.
Finally at the beginning of January 2011, high-strung as I knew my invitation was sure to come in the mail at any second, I got a phone call from the Peace Corps office. Out of the blue I was told that my nomination pool filled up, I would not be leaving in February, and that they basically had no idea when I was leaving, where I was going, or what I would even be doing as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I thought that this must be it: my dream of being a Peace Corps Volunteer was over. But a week later, the Peace Corps office called me again, and told me an invitation was in the mail for me. I opened a letter welcoming me to Peace Corps Paraguay, departing in May. I have now been in the Peace Corps for nearly nine months.
If you’ve been through any or all of these experiences- don’t give up on your dream. Some sound advice a mentor, former Peace Corps Volunteer, and then recruiter gave to me during this process was just to ride it out. If you’ve gone through the entire application process in the Peace Corps (including getting medically cleared), you will get an invitation: it’s just a question of when. In the meantime, don’t put your entire life on hold or make any major life decisions for the Peace Corps. Continue with your current job, don’t sell your house or car or make any major life adjustments, as everything in the Peace Corps is subject to change, whether it’s your leave date being pushed back or even your invitation country. Be patient, flexible, and nothing but cordial and open on the phone with your recruiter or anyone at the office. I know as Americans it is immensely frustrating not to have every little piece of information set in stone: but if this is TRULY your dream, don’t let anything stand in your way. I didn’t, and now I’m living my dream.
I know that a year ago I would smack myself for now thinking this, but I’m actually glad that my Peace Corps application was such a long and arduous process. It truly made me realize how much of a dream this was for me, and how committed I was to it. That is honestly what gets me through the hardest days in the Peace Corps, and to be frank, the Peace Corps is extremely challenging. I sincerely believe that if my Peace Corps invitation had been handed to me the first day I applied, I might just be back in the United States right now, already given up. But now that I’m here, those moments when I think about how much easier it would be just to go home, I remember how badly I wanted this.
Now that I’m here, I can’t lie and say that everything is perfect, or that my service is what I imagined it to be. I’m not the exemplary Volunteer I imagined in my head, saving lives left and right and making sweeping changes in my community from the first day. But I can say that this is the most rewarding experience of my life. I have never learned as much about myself as I do now, and I’m really proud of who I’ve become in the past year.
Bottom line: if it’s your dream to join the Peace Corps, don’t ever let it go. Sometimes I still pinch myself: I am a Peace Corps Volunteer! And you will be too.
Many people who read my blog like living vicariously through my service. Many Peace Corps Volunteers dream of changing the world. Here’s a chance for you to change a life. If you look at one thing on the internet today, let this be it.
A loving daughter and sister. An amazing girlfriend. A hardworking student. A dedicated friend. A future teacher. A humanitarian.
Janet is 23 years old, and she is desperately looking for a bone marrow match. With only two months left to live, Janet’s time is running out fast. PLEASE help Janet find a bone marrow match. She is a wonderful person, and we need her in this world.
Ways You Can Help:
- Join the Registry. You can do this for free with Janet’s special promo code- it’s quick, painless, and you could potentially be saving a life.
- Host a Drive. Hosting a bone marrow/stem cell donor drive is one of the most effective ways to reach the local public. Only 7% of Asian Americans are registered in the National Registry. These in-person drives are essential to finding potential matches for patients in need like Janet.
- Donate. All generous donations will be used towards furthering the goals of “Helping Janet,” such as helping fund bone marrow drives.
- Help Spread the Word. You could spread the word through emailing friends and family, spreading the word to someone influential to save Janet, promoting her through Facebook or Twitter, or blogging or writing articles about her.
- Volunteer. You can help volunteer at a bone marrow drive and raise awareness about Janet or one of the other 6,000 patients looking for a match.
Below is a personal plea from Janet.
Two wonderful friends of mine have already signed up through the registry for Janet. You could change a life! Please help Janet find a bone marrow match. You can read more about Janet on her personal website, Helping Janet.
This is the first time in awhile I feel at a loss of words to write anything on here. I feel as if I’ve been blindsided with everything that has happened the past few months. Such an onslaught of different emotions and feelings, it’s hard to encapsulate them all. I hear that the first six months of the Peace Corps is the hardest. On top of integrating into a new culture and two tragic deaths I experienced this year, I am excited that this period is over and looking forward to what the New Year will bring.
I am going home to the United States in three days to spend Christmas with my family, and I’ve never been more excited to go back home than I am now. I miss my parents, my siblings, my dog. I miss my friends and my grandparents and all of my cousins and aunts and uncles. I miss American restaurants, the breezy Florida winter weather, the transportation, clean houses where I don’t have to be constantly vigilant about crickets, because with them come the spiders. I miss hot showers and covers instead of my sleeping bag. I miss wi-fi. Starbucks, Target, Walgreens.
I’m taking a little break from blogging to focus on being home with family and re-charging. I’m excited to come back to my life in Paraguay with a fresh perspective. See you in the New Year!
Okay, I told myself, I am going to go over to my neighbor’s house and make myself sit there for an hour.
I’ve been in Paraguay for five months, yet I still give myself these assignments. I can’t seem to turn off the hurry mechanism that we Americans have. Whenever I am invited to a carne asado (a Sunday Paraguayan type of brunch with lots of grilled meat), to a tereré circle, or to just sit on a bunch of chairs outside someone’s house and watch the world go by, I am always thinking about when I should politely excuse myself to go back to my house. The whirring mechanisms in my brain seem to tell me that I have something really urgent and important to do, like stare at the wall. I can’t just seem to sit and relax and be all tranquilo like other Paraguayans.
This is changing, but slowly. My hour-long visit to my neighbor’s house turned into three, with activities like teaching some of my friends how to play the popular American card game, B.S., having a long conversation with a girl my age about American versus Paraguayan men, finally given the opportunity to serve tereré (only to spill it on the floor), and sharing merienda (snack-time) with the family, which was cake with dulce de leche. It wasn’t until it started raining that my neighbors warned me to close the windows in my house, and I ran off. When I got home, I couldn’t believe how much fun I had had, and as usual berated myself for all of those weird panicky ‘I-need-to-be-somewhere-else’ feelings I had for the half the time.
While I was talking about this with my Mom this morning, we discussed that while technology like high-speed internet, iPads, and high-tech cellular phones has greatly advanced our society in the United States, the detriment is always the high individualization and the more time we spend with each other virtually instead of literally. Today we Skype our neighbors instead of sitting on their front porches. Things like air-conditioning causes us to close up our house rather than keep the windows open and hear the birds. My grandmother likes to say that the biggest detriment to American families was the dishwasher- before the dishwasher, the greatest part of the day with her mother and sister was washing the dishes together and chatting.
Our culture has seemed to adopt a very type-A ‘I have a million things to do’ personality. A day consists of crossing out a laundry list of objectives, a daily race to a finish line that leaves us exhausted. Here in Paraguay, commodities like air conditioning are rare and dishwashers non-existant. Last night a power line went out in Northern Paraguay and all the electricity was cut here. I spent my night cooking and reading by candlelight. There’s no doubt about it that life is slower in Paraguay than the United States, but I like to think that this makes all interactions so much richer, and time spent together a lot more fun.
I still have my days when I long for air-conditioning, but today I am really enjoying the cool breeze wafting in through my open windows. Sometimes I miss having an iPhone or wireless internet, but I mostly enjoy feeling more unplugged. And I may still have that hurry mechanism inside me when I sit down with my neighbors for an undetermined period of time, but I am noticing it less and less. I look forward to the day when I don’t need to give myself assignments to sit down and hang out with my neighbors anymore.
As my leave date for the Peace Corps draws extremely close (we’re on the 2 day mark here, folks!), I’ve had numerous friends and family ask what most excites me about joining the Peace Corps and living in Paraguay for two years. Equally, there have also been inquiries as to what I will miss the most about living in the USA. After a lot of careful thought, I’ve decidedly come up with 10 (in no particular order) in each category.
The Top 10 things I will miss the most about the US:
1. This is obligatory: my family. Not just my parents and siblings, but my entire extended family. I will miss all of our huge reunions, smaller get-togethers, and the day-to-day life with my sisters and my parents.
2. My two dogs, pure and simple. I am super attached to my dogs, Lucky and Summer. I live to come home and see their faces every day. Saying good-bye to them will be tough!
3. The simplicity of food. Being able to go out one night for Indian, the next for Mexican, followed by sushi for lunch the next day. I will miss Vegetarian, Vegan, and Raw Food. I will miss being able to pop into Whole Foods and grab easily pre-packaged delicious snacks or peruse the local grocery chain for the thirty different varieties of cheese. Choice is something we so take for granted in the US.
4. My bed. I will miss my comforter and pillows.
5. The ability to be connected to the internet 24/7. This includes my computer and my iPhone. I will miss not being able to check my email every minute of every day, or being able to look something up on google if I have a question the minute it pops into my head. I will miss being able to download large files at lightning speed.
6. I will miss the weather in South Florida, the laid-back attitude, the palm trees, and the breeze coming from the beach.
7. Driving: just being able to get in a car and drive anywhere I want to, whether to a CVS or 5 hours north to visit friends in Gainesville.
8. Speaking English. I know it’s something we all take for granted, but I will miss all of the slang and jokes that are associated with the English language. It will be hard to learn all of them in both Spanish and Guaraní.
9. My friends. The thing is, most of my friends are spread out all over the world and not just confined to the USA. But for those that are in the US, I will miss them.
10. Indoor air conditioning and heating. When it’s hot in Paraguay, it’s REALLY hot. And when it’s cold in Paraguay, the houses aren’t insulated, so you will always be freezing. Adjusting to both extremes will definitely make me appreciate the US more!
But with the 10 things I will miss the most about America, there are also 10 things I am VERY excited about for the Peace Corps and Paraguay.
10 things that make me excited to join the Peace Corps and live in South America for two years:
1. Having the opportunity to live in one community for two years and really understand what my fellow neighbors’ wants, goals, and dreams are. This is such a rare and unique experience, and I am lucky to have the opportunity to understand what making a difference means in my community.
2. Living the tranquilo lifestyle; the typical life in Paraguay. Sitting on the porch, sipping terere (Paraguay’s famous cold beverage), and gossiping the afternoon away with my neighbors. I can’t wait to meet the people in my community, to forge new friendships, and to gain new perspectives through them.
3. The simplicity. Not having a shopping mall around every corner, or living a materialistic life that is so sought-after in the US.
4. Being in ‘the heart of South America,’ which means being in a very close proximity to Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile. This means adventures. I definitely plan on going to Brazil for Carnaval and to see my 6th wonder of the world (Christ the Redeemer). I’m also up for some rocking adventures in Bolivia, and wherever else the wind may take me.
5. Learning not one, but TWO languages fluently: Spanish, a universally recognized language, and Guaraní, a small indigenous language.
6. Having the opportunity to serve my country and be a part of the United States Government. It is something that makes me feel very proud.
7. Living and breathing in one country for two years of my life. I have spent the past 3 years traveling to 30 countries. I’m excited to spend two years in only ONE country, where I can really delve deeper into what the culture is about.
8. Learning new skills. Building a brick oven, planting my own vegetable garden, teaching English (or Spanish) to children. Whatever new Macgyver-esque skills I will acquire while in service.
9. Getting creative- whether it’s teaching a class, working with a co-op, or navigating through an awkward conversation.
10. Becoming buds with all of my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers. I’ve had the pleasure of bonding on a deep level with many people through traveling- I think it’s one of the best ways to forge long-lasting friendships. I am pretty thrilled about connecting with more on this same level.
So there you have it. Back to gorging on salads and seafood, blasting the AC and snuggling with my dogs in my last moments of appreciating the US!
Filed under: USA
This past few months have been pretty low-key. I’ve been in Florida at home, living with my parents and little sisters, where my life has revolved mostly around studying hardcore for the GMAT (Yep, I want to get an MBA after I finish the Peace Corps. I take the exam in May!), doing an obsessive amount of Bikram Yoga, and eating all kinds of delicious vegan food. Life is pretty great: I can’t complain.
But it’s about to get even greater! Tomorrow I leave for California to become a StartingBloc Fellow at the Los Angeles 2011 Institute. I’ll be meeting with about 70 other young budding social entrepreneurs to share ideas and collaborate together. We’ll be learning about new models that shape social impact, and to promote driving social innovation across sectors. We’ll all be competing in a ‘Social Innovation Collaboration’ where we’ve been split into groups of 5 and have to tackle the challenge of climate change. There are fellows all over the world coming to this institute, and I can’t wait to meet them.
As time goes on, I become more and more interested in business development and social enterprise. Thanks to my travels, I’ve had the opportunity to really discover how it works in different areas of the world. I am really excited and honored to be a part of StartingBloc, and I can’t wait for the Institute to begin!
I’ll keep you updated folks!