Talk to any current Peace Corps Volunteer or RPCV (returned peace corps volunteer) about their service and you’ll commonly hear them describe it as “The toughest job they ever loved.”
I remember hearing that phrase after I found out I was accepted from a fellow Whitworth grad, who had served in UKRAINE of all places. Beyond being a wealth of helpful information for me as I prepared to leave for my service in Ukraine, he was the first one I heard that phrase from.
This week is Peace Corps week because it marks the date in 1961 when President John F. Kennedy issued the executive order establishing the Peace Corps.
I didn’t really understand the description before I started my service, but it really is the only way to appropriately describe what it’s like. That’s also impressive considering how widely different Peace Corps service is in the 140 odd countries currently hosting or that have hosted PCVs.
Each location has its own challenges and each host country is completely unique and that’s so beautiful.
My sweet little village is named after food. Everyone here cares about me so much. Yesterday I didn’t wear tights to school and I was asked by ten different people in three different languages if I was cold.
When I go for a run, the next day my students run up to me in the halls and exclaim proudly “я бачала вас бігати” “I saw you running!” While the teachers and other people in the village discuss the impact that running in shorts in 50-degree weather will have on my health. They care, and that’s what matters.
I get invited to birthday parties, religious events and celebrations for the countless holidays that this country has. Mamalyga is my home.
I also get to teach some incredibly smart kids. All of my students speak two to three languages in addition to studying English. I love seeing them learn and I love learning from them. I love the 5th graders that walk me home everyday and ask me questions like “what are Americans like?”
I’ve never loved a job like I love being a PCV, but this is also the toughest job that I’ve ever had. Being dropped in a village in Ukraine and having to figure out how to live my life in a place where I don’t speak the language, I don’t look like anyone and I don’t know the customs and culture is incredibly difficult.
It’s so worth it though. All of the struggles I’ve had don’t come close to matching up to the moments of sheer joy I’ve had. Like when I’m running and my students stop me just to give me a piece of candy, or my 5th graders take me out for pizza, or my 6th graders ask for selfies after ever single class, or my host mom makes a special dinner on American Christmas just for me.
If you’ve been thinking about Peace Corps service or you’re hearing about it for the first time and you want more info, feel free to reach out to me or check out www.peacecorps.gov for info. It’s the most incredible experience. I know I’m supposed to be serving here and I do believe that I’m imparting something, but man I’m learning so much.
This is the toughest job you’ll ever love. I found myself using that phrase to a friend from high school who was recently offered a position. It’s pretty cool how this kind of thing comes full circle.