I recently got back from my Close of Service (COS) conference. COS is a time where you reunite with the group of volunteers you came to Paraguay with. It is an opportunity to reflect on the past two years, see how much we have all grown, and start looking towards the future. From that conference, came this blog post.
Over the past 2 years, I have had more time on my hands to reflect on life then I ever imagined. I thought about EVERYTHING. What makes me happy, what I hate about the world, what really matters, what I want from my future, etc. People talk about the Peace Corps as a time of transformation for the volunteer, of finding out whom you really are. While I don’t know that all that much has changed about me, the things that I value most and are important have certainly become clearer. Here are some of my biggest realizations (in no particular order).
- What is generosity? In the states, I understood generosity as receiving something. $50 bucks for my birthday, free Cubs tickets, free drinks, a new iPod -- how generous! And while this is still certainly true (and all free Cubs tickets still welcome!), I also learned a new definition of the word. Generosity is extending your hand to someone even when your hand is empty. The people of Paraguay showed me true generosity in the form of opening up their homes and their hearts to me when they had nothing to give but themselves. Many of the families I spent the most time with barely had enough money to pay their electric bill, but that never stopped them from taking the time to talk and drink tereré with me, cook with me, and show me their way of life. Their character and endless giving spirit even when times were tough is something I will always carry with me.
- What is the value of a simple hello? Stateside,
I don’t even remember the names of all my neighbors. During college, I never
took the time to get to know people in the apartment next to me, and I was
always too rushed at work to take the time to meet the people in other
departments. Here, however, I learned the importance of saying hello.
Of getting to know the people around you, since you will inevitably run into
them at the local store or party. A Paraguayan woman could be cooking
breakfast, milking a cow, and washing clothes ALL at the same time, but if I
passed by her house she would always, without fail, flash a smile and say
hello. At first I thought it was weird saying hello to everyone I passed on the
street, but in the end, I realized it was something that really made me
comfortable in my site. No one was a stranger, and sometimes a simple hello
turned into walking home with bags full fresh fruit or hot chipa and a great
afternoon spent drinking tereré with friends. I’m not saying I’m going to come
home and say hello to everyone I see at Starbucks and Walgreens, but I am
certainly going to make a bigger effort to get to know the people I see most
- What do I really need to make me happy? I
remember when I was the last of my friends to have an iPhone. I thought the
fact that I still had a flip phone while everyone else was playing angry birds
under their desk was the end of the world! Now, I couldn’t care less. Do I like
nice things? Of course! But those aren’t necessarily the most important things
to have. I learned that a beautiful day spend outside can be the best medicine.
That surrounding yourself with people who really care about you (and not
fretting about those who don’t) is the best thing you can do for your
self-esteem. I learned that there are friends and family I have both stateside
and here in Paraguay that will stay in my life forever. It is more important to surround
yourself with the things that can’t be replaced, than to stress over having the
latest technology or nicest pair of jeans. Because it’s those things –
a beautiful day, time with friends, holidays with family – that make me the
- What is the importance of diversity – a lesson taught to me
by my fellow PCVs. I came to Paraguay thinking I was totally open to
everything. And while that remained mostly true, I realized how little I had
actually been exposed to. I grew up in a wealthy suburb of Chicago. I went to a
university where practically everyone I met was from Illinois. Sure, I met
people who were different from me, but all of my closest friends back home are just
like me. Then I came here, and met an incredible group of people. Some of my
closest friends grew up in a different state, with a different socio-economic
background, different ethnicities, different sexual orientations, etc. And
while I learned that yes, I am an open person; I also have a lot
to learn. And a lot of questions to ask. But I feel that I have learned
so much from my friends here, and am so grateful for that. I now seek
diversity, knowing that I become a better person when I surround myself with
- And last but certainly not least - Who am I, and am I okay with that person? You have some serious time throughout the Peace Corps to evaluate every damn aspect of your life. When things were good I was incredibly happy, while when things were bad I would spend hours in my house analyzing the situation and making myself feel worse. But if I learned anything, it’s that I am who I am, and I do, in fact, like that person. Do I make mistakes? Yes. Do I swear too much? Yes. Sometimes drink too much? Yes. But I also like to think that I am kind, I learn from my mistakes, and that I take the time to get to know different people and different cultures. I try not to judge a book by its cover, and I am curious about the world. Learning to accept my whole self has been an incredible gift from my time here in Paraguay.
And so, from all the lessons I have learned, maybe I will come out of this whole Peace Corps experience a slightly better person than the one I came in as. While sometimes all the time I had on my hands was a curse, at least it allowed me to reflect of life and discover what I truly value.
|G38 and the Community Health Staff at COS Conference|