405-405

The half way point and remembering how I got here

I am no doubt an extrovert, but as a friend of mine once put it, I’m a rechargeable extrovert. I will be the loudest person cracking jokes for hours among my friends, but then I need to recharge. I need to be with me. Sometimes, that’s how I prefer to travel. Because I appreciate things better while alone.

As of today, I have been in Indonesia for 405 days, and have 405 remaining in my service. It seems both surreal and impossible. Time drags on day by day, but looking back is lightening fast.

I have wanted to serve in the Peace Corps since I was in middle school. I was sitting in my school’s career center roaming through different programs with my classmates when I came upon a pamphlet, the cover showed two people shaking hands. Their physical features were different, but I honestly couldn’t tell who was the American volunteer and who was the community member. I loved the idea that no matter what people look like, they could need help. No matter what people look like, they can help.

I try to live my life overcoming ignorance. I love to learn and to ask questions.

I declared a minor in food science and nutrition in my junior year of college, so that I could write about one of my passions, food, without simply giving opinions; I wanted to provide my readers with information and knowledge about the food process as well.

I grew up in a bilingual household as a first-generation American — my mother is Cuban. Although she was born in Chicago, she was made in Cuba, as she likes to say, and considers herself Cuban first. My mother’s family spoke to me in Spanish and I went to school often times smelling like pork and garlic, traditional Cuban staples.

My father’s side of the family is comprised of Jewish Europeans. My great-grandparents came to the United States to escape the Holocaust.

Growing up, I felt a lot of shame knowing that I wasn’t just an American. I allowed my peers to make me feel different as if that were a bad thing. As an adult, I cringe at the memories of me hiding from my grandmother when it was time for our Spanish lessons. I wish I had paid more attention to my grandfather’s stories of growing up with immigrant parents in 1920s New York City.

I have thus far spent my adult life not only embracing my own cultures, but also

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My senior superlative from my college sorority: “Most likely to travel the world.”

traveling in order to experience other cultures. I now absolutely love learning about people who are different from me. Their language, food, customs, religions are all amazing insight to the world of others.

 

I am lucky enough to say that at the age of twenty-four, I have already spent years of my life living abroad. Difficult as it may be to assimilate into another culture and leave family and friends behind, the feeling of vertigo is probably my absolute favorite feeling. I love plunging into the unknown completely dependent on my ability to get to know people and learn their culture.

I ask questions and I study hard. I genuinely try to put myself in the shoes of other people so as not to be a tourist in another country, but a guest, a traveler. I have trusted since middle school that my path would lead me to serving in the Peace Corps.

 

I fully believe everything happens for a reason. When I applied to colleges as a senior in high school, I had four requirements: the school had to have a great journalism program, it had to offer creative writing as a double major option, it had to have Greek-life, and it had to offer study abroad.

My time spent studying abroad in Greece the first time led me to take a Global Media class my junior year at the University of Missouri.

In that Global Media class, Mike Burden, a coordinator with Mizzou’s new Peace Corps Preparatory program spoke. I joined Peace Corps Preparatory.

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Hiking in Thasos, Greece. What I consider to be my second home. 

I returned to Greece the following summer to continue my emphasis studies in Travel and Food Writing and stayed longer than planned (because of course I did), irresponsibly, withdrawing from two summer school classes I planned on taking.

When I finally did return to campus, I realized the gravity of what canceling those two classes could mean. Would I still be able to graduate the following May as planned?

I went to my advisor for guidance; her office was next door to Mike’s. They convinced me to teach in South Korea after my technical graduation date to complete my final minor, so I could still graduate with my two degrees and three minors on time.

I signed up before leaving her office.

The puzzles all fell into place.

Korea was the perfect practice for my time in the Peace Corps. It allowed me to practice teaching EFL and learn how to live as a foreigner away from family, friends, and familiar customs and a language I was used to.

 

Wanderlust is real. The more I have traveled, the more I want to travel, the more I discover who I am. Every place I go, every person I meet changes me a little bit more. Or maybe they just reveal more of who I’ve always been.

Peace Corps has revealed to me more than the 13-year-old me could have ever expected. I’ve had the experience of living in an Islamic culture, learned two new languages, eaten new foods, walked new paths.

I’ve learned that Indonesia is so much more than Bali and is not, despite popular belief, an entire country made up of beaches. There are mountains and huge cities and thousands of cultures to be experienced.

I am a completely different person now than I was 405 days ago.

I am more patient and self aware and (I like to think) humble. My Peace Corps experience isn’t even close to what I dreamed it would be while sitting in classrooms in America; yet, it’s exactly what I needed.

The work is hard, not physically difficult, but offers its own challenges. The past 405 days have been, hands-down, the most significant of my life in various days. Whether I knew it at the time, my life led me here. It prepared me for the unknowns I face every day in Indonesia.

At this half-way point, I am grateful for my past and excited for the future, wondering what surprises are still to come.

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Celebrating the new year with open arms.

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