Peace Corps Never “Wraps Up”

27 Mar

I was officially in Ethiopia for 2 years, 2 months, 1 week and 5 days. I have officially been home for three months, 1 week, and 2 days. I have officially processed Peace Corps.. in the last 20 minutes.

I came home to visiting friends! and Christmas! I started job hunting about 2 months ago. I made funny mistakes like taking a napkin to the washroom, or being a little too excited about tap water. I clung to grocery lists for dear life. I bought new clothes, and went to museums and concerts. I played piano for the first time in over two years. I got laser eye surgery and FINALLY finished Insanity. I DID all sorts of things, I answered all sorts of questions, but I didn’t really reflect.

I reflected a lot during my time in Gondar. I reflected on my professional goals. I reflected on my reactions to stressful situations. I reflected on reflecting (I had a lot of time).

Coming home, my answer to the generic “How was it?” became a pat one. “It was rewarding and challenging.” But how was it rewarding (and here and here and here)? In what ways was it challenging (and here)? And so what? Was it one era of my life, the end of a chapter to finish and put up on the shelf as I hop in the drivers seat and speed down the highway back home? Oh yeah, driving.

On the one hand Peace Corps was not an anomaly. In the past five years, I have spent 34 months abroad working, not to mention travel. I will always have wanderlust. I will always want to learn about new cultures and have new experiences. In a way, my two years in those cement rooms in Gondar were the longest I’d stayed in one place in the last eight years. Peace Corps was anomalous in that it made me stay put. To dive deep into a culture and city and language that in no other circumstance would I have known that intimately.

Sometimes we talk as if there is one moment where as RPCVs we “reintegrate.” And then poof! I’m back to “normal.” Sorry to break it to you, but I was never normal. Though perhaps now I have an excuse.

I have no idea what my next five years are going to look like. I do know I want to be in a job that uses my leadership and motivational skills in a creative capacity. I do know I want to work with social issues either internationally or domestic. But these are pretty broad standards – I could be happy in many ways. I could be pursuing these things on my own, or in a partnership. This flexibility, while still understanding how I want to use my skills, is something I certainly learned over the past two years in Ethiopia. My battle with expectations and my definition of personal success changed daily.

I’ve said this before, I don’t think Peace Corps changed my life. I am too stubborn for that, and I had worked internationally before. What it did do was bring out some aspects of my personality that were always there, but under the surface. What comes out when you are out of your comfort zone… for two years. For me, I learned how much I use humour to cope. This is not a bad thing, though it can be off putting to those who don’t get it. I learned I do very well in high stress situations. I am calm under stress. I am more even keel than I thought, but can be highly rational to a fault. But I also learned to appreciate those times when I get overwhelmed with emotion, mostly its over something beautiful, though I was certainly deeply saddened at points. I tried and failed not to get angry over and over again, but I did succeed in letting go quickly.

My experiences in Ethiopia will always be a part of who I am, blending in with what has come before. I will always be excited to see an Ethiopian name or hear a snippet of Amharic. I will always be curious about how people came to this side of world, as they were curious about me.

Ultimately, as I start to work towards a new phase of my life my last two years will inform my professional and personal choices. What will programs look like “on the ground?” How would I motivate a cross-cultural team? What successful strategies for sanity did I use in Ethiopia that I could use working in other countries? Or back in Ethiopia? I won’t rule that out – there is too much of my industry in and out of Addis.

I don’t know if I have rose coloured glasses quite yet, but three months later I understand that I really needed this time to come back, see family and friends, sit back and reflect on my past two years.

What this blog will become:

This blog was my outlet to share Ethiopian culture and my personal experiences during Peace Corps and working in development. As I move forward, I don’t think “Wandering and Wondering” changes much for me. I will still travel and have opinions. While no longer exclusively Ethiopian, follow along as I morph this space into more of a travel blog (African or otherwise), and personal musings on applicable topics. And as always, let me know if there is something you want me to write about – something I missed, or a burning question. Thanks for reading and following along.

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