“The Peace Corps gives us a chance to show a side of our country that is too often submerged — our desire to live in peace, our desire to be of help.” — President John F. Kennedy
Apologies for my long blog title.
Anyway, today marks the 56th anniversary of the founding of the United States Peace Corps. I thought today would be a good day to share the story of how I came to be a Peace Corps Volunteer. Joining the Peace Corps was never a dream of mine; I had never even considered it before deciding to apply.
I have these three distinct memories where I learned about other people serving in the Peace Corps:
- When I was a kid, my grandmother worked at a credit union. One of her colleagues quit her job in order to join the Peace Corps. I think this woman was maybe in her 50s at the time? It’s hard to remember — I was only about ten(?). What I do remember is that the adults in my life talked about this as if it were some kind of noteworthy event.
- In my 20s, my best friend and I were out one night in Chicago. We ran into a guy she knew. He was out celebrating with a group of friends, because he was leaving to join the Peace Corps the next morning. (I think he was going to Costa Rica.) When I heard that, I felt sorry for him. I imagined him living in a hut, in extreme heat, far away from his family.
- A few years later, I was living in Boston and dating someone whose brother-in-law had served in the Peace Corps. I would overhear him or other family members mention his service, but I don’t think I ever once asked him about it.
Though I can recall those experiences now, not one of them made me consider joining the Peace Corps.
In October 2014, I went on a week long vacation to visit Boston (where I’d previously lived)/New York City. I was staying with my friend Nicole in Boston. She had to work that week, so during the day, I was left on my own. One gloriously beautiful autumn morning, I decided to take the T down to South Boston, to visit the John F. Kennedy Presidential Museum and Library. I’d never been there before. I’m not a history buff, but I’ve always been interested in JFK. He was a fascinating man who had a fascinating life and a fascinating death. At the museum, I learned more about his varied accomplishments, including founding the Peace Corps. Did that cause me to consider joining? No.
In March 2015, my best friend and I spent a week in Dallas, visiting some other friends. We visited the Sixth Floor Museum, which used to be the Texas School Book Depository. As you probably know, this is where Lee Harvey Oswald was standing when he shot President Kennedy to death. Like the Boston library, the Sixth Floor Museum celebrates JFK’s life and accomplishments. I remember watching the following video (see below) at the museum with tears in my eyes. Did that prompt me to consider joining the Peace Corps? No.
A short time after I returned from Dallas, a man I’d (only briefly) been dating ended things. Still, it hurt. And it triggered a reaction in me. I’d been a social worker for a few years, after changing careers and going back to graduate school at age 30. While I was happier in my new profession, I still felt dissatisfied. I knew I needed to change my life. I also knew that I needed something more than just a new job or a new apartment. I needed to change the way I was living my life, to make some kind fundamental shift. I told myself I needed to explore new ideas, to come up with something radical to do.
One night, I was skimming through LinkedIn. You know how it gives you a list of people you may know professionally? I came across one man’s profile. I didn’t know him, but I saw that he had served in the Peace Corps. And it clicked for me then. I thought, “That would be something really different.”
So, it took someone breaking up with me + trolling LinkedIn to arrive at my decision to join the Peace Corps. Life is funny sometimes.
At the beginning of April, I went to Michigan to visit my family for Easter. I remember showering at my sister’s house, thinking, “I can’t join the Peace Corps! I won’t be able to shower for two years!” (For the record, I’ve showered every day since joining the Peace Corps.) I knew I was being ridiculous, but I made myself imagine every worst-case scenario. I imagined what it would be like to be away from my family for so long. And that’s really when I put aside my doubts and committed to the idea of applying. I sat on my sister’s couch and called a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) to discuss my options. I also ordered a Groupon to take an online TEFL certification. Things fell into place from that point.
Serving in the Peace Corps continues to take on deeper meaning for me the longer I am in Kosovo. My family and friends have been incredibly supportive. It makes me proud to know my parents are proud of me. My Dad was a Navy SEAL during the Vietnam War, and this experience makes me feel more connected to him, because we now share the experience of serving our country.
Here is the video of President Kennedy announcing the founding of the Peace Corps. These are great words spoken by a great man. I tear up whenever I watch it.
Today, I am proud to serve in the United States Peace Corps! I want to thank my friends and family for the overwhelming support you’ve all shown me. I’d like to think I’d have the moral fortitude to do this even if everyone else was against it, but the reality is, it’s easier to do hard things in life when those you care about are supporting you. Thank you for all of your emails and phone calls and texts, your postcards and your care packages. XO
Happy Anniversary, Peace Corps!