Inspired by the last La Cadena issue’s topic of change, I have one message for you: don’t change. Or more appropriately, don’t change back. As my service will shortly draw to a close, I have started thinking about who I will be and who I will not be as an RPCV. In keeping my Peace Corps experience close to my heart, I will not be an RPCV who turns his back on the world reverting back to the path of most comfort. I will not pat myself on the back for a good deed done thinking my quota of goodwill has been filled. To the contrary, I will embrace collectivism and stewardship and will subject myself to challenges to continue growing.
When I visited the United States during Thanksgiving 2012, who I wanted to be after Peace Corps started to become clear. I remember waking up from a nap on the airplane to see organized city blocks and huge shopping malls from thousands of feet in the air and knowing that I was no longer above Central America. Waiting for my connection to DC in Miami, I quickly learned that, in my absence, Apple had become king as the five people sitting around me were all on their iPhones. One gentleman switched out his iPhone to read an article on his iPad, which shortly thereafter he replaced with his MacBook (I was waiting for him to take out his iBigScreenTV next).
Despite the immediate sensation of “face planting” back into America, I had a wonderful visit, seeing friends, eating Asian food, and reconnecting with my family. But being “home” reminded me of those cliché moments where the more mature, grown-up son or daughter sees the flaws and imperfections of his or her parents as they develop an adult relationship. I saw the flaws of the United States with clear eyes and at the same time saw the person I wanted to be moving forward. What I saw was a comfortable country where such comfort discourages community, destroys the environment, and stunts growth. The person I see in the future rejects hyper-comfort and its side effects.
Prior to joining the Peace Corps, I had a comfortable American existence. I worked in a nice office, making decent money. I ate delicious food, went to cool happy hours, and took advantage of Living Social. I even thought I was living consciously; I recycled, brought my own coffee mug to Starbucks, and purchased a small solar powered cell phone charger. Meanwhile I had no less than ten electrical appliances sucking energy all day. I purchased new clothes when my older clothes were just fine. I thought my desk job for an NGO was enough social justice for one day and didn’t get involved in the DC community. When I thought I had attained happiness I had actually just attained a comfortable stagnant life that needed a heavy dose of the world to shock myself out of a wine and cheese induced coma.
Thanks to my Peace Corps experience, I have grown and changed. I have experienced the beauty, fulfillment, and frustration of integrating into a community and being a part of it. I have seen, smelled, tasted, and regretted the effects of human consumption on the planet. I have seen how much I can grow and achieve if I accept challenges. I have been pleasantly surprised when I let life plan itself and accept the direction it takes me in. I have worked hard to improve a world that is everyone’s fault and I have found solace in my failures when I realize that the world is simultaneously no one’s fault. To make sure I grow into the person I know I can be, I have offered myself a challenge: don’t change back. If you are like me and have grown through your service and seen that you can be better, I offer you the same.