When I joined the Peace Corps, I knew it would be hard. Really hard. I knew I would not change the world. Some days I hate this place and can’t wait to be anywhere else. Other days are better. I know that someday I will appreciate it, embrace it and maybe even love it.
But in the meantime, I think about how this experience, these past two years in a developing country, has made me a better person. It certainly has made me a better American. I think America is the most magical place in the world and have never been more proud to call it my home. It has also made me see the flaws we, as Americans, have. It has made me realize what a privilege it is to grow up a white, American native English-speaker. It made me realize the freedoms we have that so many Americans take for granted: the privilege of an education, of healthcare, of safety. The freedom of holding an American passport.
This experience has also made me a feminist. It has made me grateful for the hundreds of years of women before me, especially my mother and her mother, who believed the world could and would be a better place for their daughters. I believe that women should be educated and that educating women creates a better world for all involved. I believe that woman have the right to choose who they marry. I believe that woman should be allowed input on family planning. I believe that women are not stupid or helpless and we should stop telling them that.
It has made me political. It has shown me how amazing the political freedom we have in America really is, despite all the flaws. It has made me realize how insignificant an individual is and how I really respect those who care about those who cannot care for themselves. I respect those who believe the poor have potential and can rise above it. It has given me respect for those who believe in humanity over money, in humanity over political alliance and in humanity even if it can’t give anything in return.
It has made me give a crap about the world outside my own circle of influence. It made me realize that there is a greater world beyond how many friends “like” your Facebook posts and how many retweets you get on Twitter. That there is so much more to worry about than the fact a Starbucks coffee went up a whole thirty cents. Especially when that Starbucks coffee is the daily wage of a highly paid office worker in Ethiopia. It has made me realize how small and insignificant my life was when there is a whole world
I’ve noticed I talk a lot about myself and what this experience has done for me, but I think that’s important for anyone considering joining the Peace Corps. Peace Corps is not just a job in a foreign land. It’s a job that puts you right into the heart of poverty, in distressed nations where things are different from life back home. It puts you into situations that will break your heart and radically shift your perspective on the world. The Peace Corps experience will change those who choose to accept it.
“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” ― Leo Tolstoy
I hope I always remember how I felt now, living in the midst of it. I hope that pay raises and comfortable living never turn me back into the person I was, comfortable in my apathy. I hope I never forget what Ethiopia has taught me–both good and bad–when I am far beyond it looking back.