change, peace corps

Look at where you are. Look at where you started

“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”
― Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky

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Two years in Panama is drawing to a close sooner than I realized it would. Friends of mine are wrapping up their final projects in their communities, some have moved back in with host families, and everyone’s WhatsApp status is a despedida (going away party). In just a few short weeks almost everyone that came to this country with me will be leaving it and heading back to friends, family, and wherever they used to call home. I will be extending my service a year and will be continuing working with Peace Corps as the “Teaching English Coordinator.” No despedida for me for another 14 months or so. Why stay? Professional reasons: I want to explore my strengths and weaknesses in a leadership role, I want to continue improving my Spanish, I want to have another year of experience under my belt to make me a competitive applicant for jobs in the future. Personal reasons: I’m not quite ready to leave Panama, I’m not sure what sort of career I’m heading towards and I hope one more year of more job-specific work gives me the opportunity to figure that out. As most PCV’s will tell you, service doesn’t really seem to click into place until your second year. Then you’re left feeling like you have too little time to accomplish everything you dreamed you would. I’ve accomplished such a small portion of what I imagined yet at the same time I’ve done so much more than I thought I would. So how do you measure 2 years of service? In my case it looks something like this:

2 Cats adopted

1 national camp hosted

48 youth increased capacity in frisbee and leadership skills

4 English courses hosted

~25 people increased proficiency in English language usage

1 TESOL conference attended

At least 5 Teacher seminars that I can remember hosted

Well over 50 English Teachers demonstrated increased understanding of teaching methodologies

2 English Course curriculum’s developed

Countless plates of arroz con pollo eaten

1 time being the reina in the festival del sombrero pinta’o

1 hike up cerro orari

1 new family gained

Countless friends made

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Reina for sombrero pinat’o my first year

The past few months have been some of the most challenging for me so far. There’s a lot of doubt about whether extending is the right choice for me. It’s hard to see the friends I’ve made moving on with their lives and heading off to grad school and career’s knowing that I’ll be staying in the same house, in the same community, doing some of the same things. I’ve had people very close to me leave Panama for various personal reasons. As always, things here are in flux. As old friends leave, new ones are coming in. I was lucky to host the new TELLS group in my community for their practicum week and when they left I felt both exhausted and rejuvenated. Not only do I have a lot to offer them, but they have a lot to offer me. In my Peace Corps application, I had to write out my “why.” Why was I applying to this organization? Why did I want to go abroad for 27 months to a country I had never been to? Why did I want to spend 2 years of my life bumbling through Spanish and humidity and weeks of rain followed by weeks of no rain? Naively, I wrote that I wanted to create a positive impact on the world. I had some basic teaching knowledge and a go-getter attitude that I expected to get me far. And then, somewhat less naively, I wrote that I wanted to learn from the experience. I wrote that I expected to get more from it than I gave. That has been proven true again and again. The opportunities afforded me by the people in my community and by my fellow volunteers have been one of the largest parts of my service. I’ve walked in parades because community members have seen me and gestured for me to come participate with them, I’ve danced pollera because my host family wanted me to see what it was like to be the reina on a float during the biggest celebration my community hosts, I’ve gone out to the indigenous parts of Panama and talked to women about sexual health, the list goes on and on. I’m excited and anxious to start my final year here; to see what opportunities come my way and in what ways I change and grow. And my despedida will be amazing when it’s time for it.

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