My Peace Corps story begins 3 years ago when I applied to serve for the first time.
With a 21 year-old, white, privileged sense of the world, I decided that joining the Peace Corps just made the most “sense” for my life trajectory- which at the time, I envisioned as a straight line. Everything I had wanted to do at the point, I had done, so I knew that this would be the same.
I had studied International Affairs, did well in school, had studied abroad in Spain, was more or less conversational in Spanish , had a background in volunteering, and so obviously I was a perfect candidate for the Peace Corps. It would be the perfect stepping stone to my perfect timeline I had created for my perfect life plan.
A would lead to B which would lead to C- because isn’t that how life is suppose to work?
As a senior in college at the University of Colorado at Boulder, under the old application process, I had been nominated to serve in Mozambique. I had been told by everyone I had talked to- from my recruiter to previous PCVs-that with a nomination I was essentially in… the rest of the steps were formalities. As long as I could pass legal, medical and dental clearance, I would be invited to serve somewhere in the world. So I planned for exactly that- planned that life would go along with my plan.
So I decorated my graduation cap with a map of the world, indicating my next stop would be the African continent. My graduation party was Peace Corps themed, and I had decided to forgo finding a “real” job to instead work a summer job as a pool manager, allowing myself time to prepare for what I thought would be an end-of-summer departure. And so I anxiously waited for my invitation to come to my inbox.
Instead, I received a short, automated email telling me that due to the competitive application process, I would not be invited to serve at this time, and that I should talk to my recruiter and consider reapplying.
Cringe-worthy, I know.
So as a 22 year-old, recent college grad, I went from having the next 2.5 years of my life planned out to having no plan at all- not a single idea where I would go or what I would do. No Plan B pill for this change of plans.
As you can imagine, much like a fish out of water, I floundered.
And so for the next year and half I would flounder from opportunity to opportunity, looking for my purpose somewhere in the static. I floundered to Peru where I worked with an indigenous rights NGO but suffered from parasites, amoebic dysentery and a quickly draining bank account. I then floundered back home when my best friend was nearly killed in a car accident. I then floundered for five months as I spammed company after company with my resume and application. Which then eventually led me to floundering into a job I never imagined myself doing at a company I never imagined working at.
I cried a lot. Prayed a lot. Felt sorry for myself… a lot.
My hopeful, optimistic, idealistic attitude was being tested by the Universe. I needed to be taught a lesson. A hard one. And oh did I feel it. I was growing and it hurt.
I needed to learn that life often did not abide by our simple-minded, narrow-sighted, earthly ways of doing things, but it always fell into plan. There was always something to learn, something to gain, something to grow. Like an etch-a-sketch that had once displayed an intricately, hand-drawn map of the vision of my life, with one fall swoop, my map had been shaken up and erased. I was left without direction or purpose.
But the beautiful thing about that is that is exactly what needed to happen. I needed to learn that sometimes things needed to be hard. I needed to learn that gratefulness was a choice, needed to learn that I had the power to wake up everyday, while waging a war against myself, and still choose to say, “Thank you.” I also needed to learn, though, that sometimes things could be simple and easy. I could be a little fish that swam with the stream. I did not always have to try to control the forces around me, the water pulling me back. I had to learn to embrace everything that came to me, recognizing it as an opportunity I could choose to seize or dismiss. I always had a choice.
This revelation was incredibly empowering. Though I could not always control what happened to me, I could always choose how I reacted to it.
As I learned these lessons, as I found gratefulness in the difficulty and for the discomfort, as I embraced the uncertainty, I suddenly was able to see the light of the Universe bringing me home, back into myself. I began finding myself excited to go to work. I began to find purpose again, even if the purpose looked different than what I had imagined it before. And with this new sense of self, and as my life began to find its equilibrium, I began to open up again to the idea of serving in the Peace Corps.
But this time was different. This time I did not apply because I thought it was something I should do, nor because I saw it as a means to an end. I applied to serve because I wanted to. There was no deeper analysis. There was no pre-planning of what life would look for me before, during or after. No trying to control the what-ifs and manage the Unknown. It was that easy and that simple.
And now 3 years since I first applied, I am beyond excited to announce that I am now preparing to depart in August to serve as a Youth Development Volunteer in the Dominican Republic for the next 27 months.
Looking back, I see how much more prepared I am- physically, mentally and spiritually- to serve as a 24-year old whose world was shaken up and floundered her way back into herself than the 22 year-old who had never really been told no.
And so now I wake up everyday and I say, Thank you. Thank you, God, Thank you, Universe, for not agreeing to my plan.
I look forward to sharing my story, and the stories of others, with you all as I embark on this grand adventure. Thank you for doing this with me. And a very special shout out to my Mom and Dad who were my refuge when the world was hard for the past 24 years of life. You da best.