“May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.” -Nelson Mandela
I can’t believe I’m writing this!
My time in Ecuador is coming to an end, and I remain in awe at the realization of how fast time travels! I know people say this all of the time and perhaps it’s a cliché to say, but I can’t get over it! I am DAYS away from sitting at my best friend’s kitchen table and telling her all about my trip; I am DAYS away from a hot shower and carpeting!!
Before I start to name everything I’m looking forward to, let’s rewind to May 30, 2014, the day I flew into Quito… While on the plane ride from Miami to Quito almost a month ago, I wrote down several goals that I wanted to accomplish during my stay here in Ecuador. One of them was actually to lose the weight I gained during my spring semester in college… ha! I didn’t realize that Ecuadorians, specifically those in the Napo region, LOVE carbs and fried carbs, and sadly so do I! My host family has fed me very little fruit and vegetables, and although their food high in carbs is delicious, I will have to cross out this specific goal from my list and pursue it some other time… Oops. Nevertheless, there is another goal that I considered, one that is much more important, and thankfully I did fulfill it. My goal was to answer the following question for myself: Is the Peace Corps for me?
For the last month, I have been an intern with Runa Foundation, and I can’t imagine having had a better experience. When working with a non-profit organization, work for an intern varies everyday- the work of the day could be physical and laborious, while other days you may be inside an office most of the day. Work may not end when you leave the office either. I have been staying with a host family that is part of the Kitchwa tribe, an indigenous community, and I am constantly observing and learning from them. These observations are then considered and applied to my work with Runa, thus I’m constantly taking mental notes and making an effort to remember most conversations. Although I’ve loved staying with my particular host family and I will miss them dearly when I leave, the constant application of effort has made me feel very tired and even a little lonely during my stay. The physical discomforts is not what has been difficult for me to get accustomed to, but rather, it has been the mental and emotional ones. I miss my own family, I miss being able to shut my door at the end of the day and not feel guilty that there are people waiting for me for further interaction, and I miss hugging the people I love. (The Kitchwa culture is not accustomed to physical affection and show minimal emotions; when I feel appreciative of something, all I can give is a handshake. But I hope my family gets ready for hugs when I leave their home later tonight!) I love traveling, studying new cultures, and getting out of my comfort zone, but a two year (or more) commitment goes beyond that. I have been learning a lot about myself that I didn’t know before, and I couldn’t have done so without this experience.
At this point, you can probably guess that my answer to my question is a no, and you’re right. My decision, however, has been made by more than my own emotional discomforts. Through the mentorship of the staff at Runa, people who are much smarter than me, older, and wiser in every way, I’ve learned that the Peace Corps can actually limit me in terms of my own personal goals during my service, and I’m not sure if I want to pause my life for two years. What is now agonizing is that the more I learn, the more confused I become over my interests and passions! I love economics and charts and numbers, but what about my love for writing? I love politics, but I don’t want to enter that arena; I enjoy working in global development, but can I handle the disappointment that follows? What about global business? I JUST DON’T KNOW. But at least I know that the Peace Corps will not be the next step.
I hope this blog does not discourage anyone from wanting to join the Peace Corps. The Peace Corps is a wonderful organization that changes the world for individuals, and it is constantly moving towards innovation for the greater good. The inner satisfaction that it provides volunteers with is immense, and I can’t imagine gaining such sense of fulfillment anywhere else. Personally, I’ve simply learned that I want to remain in the United States, build my life there, and figure out what I want to do with my life. I’ve learned that I don’t want to halt such exciting plans that I want to share with my family and friends, nor do I want to miss my family and friends’ life-changing experiences. Although I want to continue to travel for the rest of my life to places such as Ecuador and perhaps work for (or invest) in organizations such as Runa, I want to be present for myself and those I love in The States, where my life and heart belongs.