By Aara Johnson
My Peace Corps journey has been a wild one. I have a higher tolerance for ambiguity, change, and disappointment. Let’s start with when I applied: December 2011. My phone interview was strange in that the recruiter told me Latin America was not an option for me. “There’s no English teaching in that region.” I capriciously chose Eastern Europe since it seemed more interesting than Africa or Asia. After about six months, they assigned me to Georgia to teach English. I started learning the Georgian alphabet and language (ara means “no”). A couple months later, the Peace Corps nurse called to say they messed up their medical records and did not catch my asthma, which was a medical condition Georgia could not support. Fifteen months after I applied, I received the email announcing Colombia. Even before arriving to country, I already found it a difficult, uphill battle.
Throughout training I found myself breaking down during Spanish class due to its difficulty. I also found myself drained with spending time with other Peace Corps trainees. I told my director of programming and training that I came to Peace Corps to spend time with host country nationals, not other gringos. He told me that as a small post, it would be a challenge to avoid the other PCVs, but it could be done. My program manager doubted me during my interview, saying she did not think I was here for the right reasons. When I received my site placement, I was concerned about being the third volunteer there and what my school’s expectations would be. I had not even sworn in yet, and the uphill battle continued.
I had those couple months of boredom after swear-in since the school year had not started. Being in a city was also difficult since I did not have a well-packaged “community.” I found a niche with the church a couple blocks from me. I helped the youth group by providing a curriculum and felt they became my community since I spent so much time there. However, one year in, due to security reasons, I had to move. I was frustrated with changing my mindset from “put two years in” to potentially starting over with some projects and relationships. The uphill battle still continued.
I sit here within reach of completing my service. Ringing that bell signifies my accomplishments not only professionally, but also personally. At the top of this long uphill hike, the view will be spectacular: a returned Peace Corps volunteer. There are too many examples of what I have learned in these two years. The most important attribute I have honed is resiliency, which the Colombian people have demonstrated. No matter what happens to me, whether I put it on myself or it came upon me, I have a stronger resiliency to react and move forward instead of being paralyzed by surprise or frustration.