23 February 2011

A possible insight?

[This was originally posted on 17 Feb, but I took it down because I it apparently upset people and made me come off as quite unsympathetic and pompous, which wasn’t my intention at all. Hopefully this time around it all makes sense…]

This morning I had to look through my email to find an address to which I need to send my Kyrgyzstan visa application (of course, it's not there). But while scanning emails, I found a link to a .pdf the PC sent to help the families and friends of PCV when they're getting ready to leave. In it, there's a huge section about readjusting to life back in the States once their two years is over. There's a section that the PC has highlighted from an essay someone wrote about returning home (seriously, this is exactly what I would write, except infinitely more eloquent and well-written).

'The problem is this notion of home. The word suggests a place and
a life all set up and waiting for us; all we have to do is move in. But
home isn’t merely a place we inhabit; it’s a lifestyle we construct
(wherever we go), a pattern of routines, habits, and behaviors associated
with certain people, places, and objects all confined to a
limited area or neighborhood. We can certainly construct a home
back in our own culture, just as we did abroad, but there won’t be
one waiting for us when we arrive….

In other words, no one goes home; rather, we return to our native
country and, in due course, we create a new home. This condition
of homelessness is perhaps the central characteristic of the experience
of reentry, and the confusion, anxiety, and disappointment it
arouses in us are the abiding emotions of this difficult period.
To put it another way, the trouble with reentry is that you suddenly
find yourself in transition when what you expected was to simply
pick up where you left off (though, of course, neither the place
where you left off nor the person who went overseas exists anymore).
Even when they’re expected, transitions are troublesome;
when they’re not, they can be genuinely debilitating.

Your self-esteem isn’t helped, meanwhile, by the fact that no one
seems especially interested in what you’ve been doing for the last
two years. You have just gone through what may be the seminal
experience of your life (certainly of your life to-date), an experience
that has transformed your view of the world and your own country—
and changed you profoundly in the process—and yet your family
and intimates somehow aren’t bowled over. You have so much to
explain, but alas, their capacity to absorb is not nearly matched by
your need to recapitulate; they’re filled up before you’re even half
empty. The typical returned Volunteer is a catharsis waiting (not so
patiently) to happen.

This dynamic only adds to the returned Volunteer’s growing crisis
of identity. With no present role, your sense of self—and of selfworth—
is embodied in the sum of all the experiences you’ve had
in the Peace Corps; you are what you have been through in the
last two years. But if nobody wants to hear this, then how can they
know how you’ve changed and who you’ve become? And if they
don’t know who you are, how can they value or even like you?
Another frustrating dimension of readjustment is the sudden return
to anonymity. While Volunteers often complain about living in a fishbowl
overseas, their every move the subject of intense scrutiny and
still more intense speculation, they nevertheless enjoy being the
center of attention and interest; it makes them feel special, even
important. Speaking the local language, for example, makes celebrities—
even heroes—out of Volunteers, as does being the first
American ever to teach at the King Hassan II Elementary School or
to ride the local bus from Song Kwah to Phu Banh. Now, no one looks up
when we enter a room or squeals with delight when we start speaking Swahili.
Our every move has more or less the same
novelty value as everyone else’s every move. We aren’t special anymore—
and we miss it.

Something else we miss, acutely, is the intensity of the Peace Corps
experience. Even when it was difficult—indeed, especially when it
was difficult—the experience of living and working among an alien
people had an almost palpable richness about it. We could practically
feel ourselves growing and maturing, being stretched beyond
what we thought were our limits and forced to come up with more
patience or tolerance or persistence than we thought we had in
us. We knew we were being transformed. And this was immensely
stimulating and sustaining. Back home, life is easy and predictable;
our character no longer gets a regular workout…’
- Taken from the Handbook for Families of Volunteers, Peace Corps literature.

I thought this might help show a little insight as to what I’m kind of experiencing having come back from Africa and more than likely what I’ll be dealing with once I get back from K-stan. I might be a bitch when I get back and seem different to you, but please stick with me. I love each and every one of you and sincerely appreciate everything you’ve done for me. Thank you so much for stayin’ in my corner and rooting for me, no matter what. I wouldn’t be here without you.


  1. Wow, this is a great essay. very clear-eyed. I think it ought to have mentioned that other people change and have life-altering experiences over those 2 years, too, though.

  2. That's very true - it's good to have someone remind you of that while you're in the process of leaving/experiencing too. Makes us realize that we're not the only people in the world who are going through life-changing experiences as well. :) Thanks for reminding me.

    PS - I didn't write the essay, it's from a former PCV and it's in one of the adjustment things PC sends you before you leave.