Change Yourself…Change The World.


Feeling Jaded: Hardship, Redefined.
November 9, 2011, 5:00 am
Filed under: Paraguay

It’s hard not to feel cynical sometimes: being a Peace Corps Volunteer can be extremely frustrating. I try to maintain a healthy level of optimism on my blog, but I also don’t want to sugar coat the lows of this experience. It’s hard to sit at a desk all day long with nothing to do, constantly trying and failing to achieve objectives and further the work I was brought here to do. It’s hard to hear a promise from an organization (five times, to be exact) that they will keep their appointment or come to Caazapá, and then again not show up, not even call. It’s hard to sit down with someone and talk excitedly with them about how you can help their business, only to find out later that their ‘Yes I want your help!’ is really a Paraguayan indirect ‘No thanks.’ It’s hard feeling like your house is a fish bowl, with all of your neighbors knowing your every move at all times, and constantly gossiping about it to your face. And probably the most difficult thing of all, it’s extremely  hard to discipline yourself to get out and work when it many times translates to frustration and failure.

During the lowest points, a lot of these early experiences in my service equates to running around like a chicken with my head cut off. I feel like I still can’t even speak Spanish well; forget Guaraní. The more time I spend with my neighbors, the more I realize how little I know about this culture. And it seems like all of Peace Corps training has drained out the back of my head and I’m left clutching manuals to teach me how to do development; something that anyone with literacy can carry out. What happened to all of my experience in the field? What happened to my confidence, my leadership skills?

One of Peace Corps 10 Core Expectations of Volunteers is that we should prepare to serve under hardship, if necessary. Before coming to Paraguay, I imagined that hardship entailed lack of physical comfort and material luxuries that we take for granted in the United States. In fact, I am not experiencing this sort of hardship here; I live in a nice house and have access to things like high-speed internet. I’ve realized that hardship has taken on a whole new meaning for me: this hardship translates to feeling unproductive, to daily frustrations and failures, to the loneliness of being the only American and the day-to-day anxiety of not understanding, or not meaning to offend someone, or unintentionally doing something that reflects badly on me or my culture in general.

I’m not trying to say this because I want to give up. Far from it, I am extremely proud to be a Peace Corps Volunteer and feel blessed to have been chosen for this job. The Peace Corps is something I’ve committed to and I plan to stick it out to the end. And I also can’t tell these frustrations without balancing it with all of the good things, like the amazing friendships I’ve made with my neighbors, the tight-knight community I have at my cooperative, the awe-inspiring days that I get to do something new that I’ve never done before, the times I’m humbled because Paraguayans are so extremely generous, the successes I feel at the end of a particularly interesting conversation in Spanish (or even basic conversations in Guaraní), the days that I stumble across something completely new in Caazapá that I could work with (such as a music school where I could teach drum set), the great times I have with my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers, the laughter and the jokes and all of the fun in between. But along with all of those great things, I still find it important to share the other half of my experiences, the times when I feel disheartened.

Our Director of Program and Training in Paraguay, Dee Hertzberg, likes to say that in the Peace Corps you learn to measure productivity in different ways. I feel that I’m really starting to understand what this means. Productivity here doesn’t mean reporting back to someone on your daily progress, or measuring the amount of work you do each month. Productivity means walking an hour and a half in the blazing sun to an Agricultural School so that you can sit down for five minutes and convince the Director to help the students with a tree-planting project.  Productivity means forcing yourself to sit at your neighbor’s house for two days and drink tereré, all for those five minutes when they reveal to you a need in the community that you can address. Productivity means sitting at a desk for two months for that ONE day that someone will give you something to move forward with a project.

The Peace Corps: prepare for big failures and small successes. But as Kenneth Boudling said, “Nothing fails like success because we don’t learn from it.  We learn only from failure.”

Prepare to learn big. Prepare to look at success in a different way. And prepare to stand humbled from your failures.


7 Comments so far
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You amaze me Brittany. You’re doing such amazing things even if it doesn’t always feel like it. Because even though you may feel like you’re not impacting someone in Paraguay, you are, and you’re also impacting us back in the States through your blog. We love you!

Comment by Liz & Danny

Thanks for the words of encouragement Liz cajones. I love and miss you guys!!

Comment by brittanygoesglobal

It’s sad but not surprising that you’re facing the same obstacles we faced in the 70s, what Martin Almada calls the legacy of 35 years under the brutal repression of Stroessner’s dictatorship: lingering fear and a lack of personal initiative. I think it’s great you’re doing the small business class in the high school … was wondering, if you haven’t explored it with the students already, if they might not benefit from and enjoy fabricating and selling solar cookers. Patricia McArdle, author of FARISHTA and former PCV-Paraguay, is promoting them around the globe, as is Dr. Almada in Paraguay. If anyone can make a difference, Brittany, I know you can. Take care.

Comment by Emily Creigh

[…] I admit that I do feel that sometimes, and while I’ve been experiencing the lows of the Peace Corps recently, I’ve felt it more often than not. But the lows bring me to the […]

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[…] I admit that I do feel that sometimes, and while I’ve been experiencing the lows of the Peace Corps recently, I’ve felt it more often than not. But the lows bring me to the […]

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Im a PCV in norther Perú, swore in Nov. 2011. Hitting my three month mark and have many (if not ALL) of the feelings you stated here. So I decided to google search and see what popped up (looking for advice in the http://www….sometimes it works) an I came to this blog post.

Im not going to lie; Ive been having thoughts of giving up and going home. But I know that would be the biggest mistake, and I would always regret it. I know advice only goes so far, and most of the coping needs to come from within, BUT can you give me the reassurance that these feelings go away?

Not sure how often you check this, but get back to me whenever is convenient. You can email me at david.witte.2030@gmail.com
Hope all is well in Paraguay!

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