No Volunteer is an Island

By Paul Mangold


There’s a Yiddish saying that misery shared is half a blessing. Few experiences bring PCVs more blessings than site change, so I hope sharing my experiences will be a blessing to relocated volunteers. After four months on rural Tierra Bomba Island, I was put in Caribe limbo, then moved to urban Santa Marta. Thanks to the support of fellow volunteers and staff, I feel my service is going well. Your service is still young. There are adventures to have and opportunities to grab. We’re all confident you will.

Changing sites gives you a clean slate. You can avoid old mistakes, or better yet, make new ones. No one at my new site knows that I taught a whole lesson with my fly open. Instead, they know that I wrote a lesson in Sharpie, then spent the rest of the class trying to clean the whiteboard. You’ll take everything you’ve learned from your old site and bring it with you. You have the opportunity to make better first impressions with your upgraded Spanish, cultural awareness and self-confidence.

My first months on the island were the standard PCV honeymoon. The community’s flaws were lovable quirks, and its inconveniences were adventures. It was easy to stay positive. I had the enthusiasm to build confianza when I could (should) have been napping. My second site was different. I knew I had to build confianza all over again, but I felt burned out and just wanted to stay in my room and read. I worried that no matter how much I raced to catch up my service was already compromised. The honeymoon was over.

PCV all-star Mike Deloge once told me the volunteers’ first job is to take care of themselves. He’s right. You’ve got plenty of time. Use some of it to make yourself (relatively) comfortable. If you’re miserable, your work will suffer, and you won’t be useful to anyone. Make a schedule, exercise, find food, do laundry, and take time for yourself. If you remember anything I say make it this: GET ENOUGH SLEEP! Going to bed early is an investment in tomorrow.

Cultivating positivity is a conscious process. Small victories are easy to forget so write them down for later. No volunteer is an island, so don’t be afraid to call fellow PCVs. Best case is you brighten their days, vent as needed and get fresh inspiration. Worst case is they pretend not to have phone service. Assist fellow PCV projects because a busy volunteer is a happy volunteer. So take care of yourself and cultivate positivity. It’s never too late for a second honeymoon.

Thank you Oíste for choosing “Replanting Roots” as this month’s theme. There aren’t enough testimonials and guides for relocated volunteers. To everyone going through this process you have my upmost respect. I want to compile your experiences and advice to create a relocation packet for future volunteers. Please send me whatever you have; but don’t lose sleep over it.

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