Monday, November 8, 2010

Two years, a long time?

One year and five months later I found myself alone in an apartment reading a book but not processing anything, anticipating the arrival of my brother and my sister in-law. I left New York telling myself that two years really isn't that much time. Since high school life has been passing in two year increments. Two years of community college was followed by two years at university which was slightly extended into my two years of miscellaneous before joining yet another two year stint, Peace Corps. Each of those time periods seemed to fly by without notice and I was excited to be moving on to the next two years, only two years.

I've realized that this time period will not fly by without notice. This time there is a variable within this two year increment that makes me realize that two years is kind of a long time. That variable is home and seeing family, some "home" faces, helped me realize for the first time ever that two years is actually quite a bit of time.

It was a bit shocking seeing some familiar faces. Sure, I see these faces over skype from time to time, but it isn't the same. At least that is what I would always tell myself before but now I actually know. No matter how much I like skype it doesn't hold a candle to a nice face to face interaction, especially when it's been well over a year since that last face to face interaction. Leading up to meeting my brother and sister in-law I did have a bit of anxiety but I quickly realized that family will always be family and it doesn't take long to regain that feeling of comfort.

My trip to Venice was not about canals, gondolas, churches, and tourists like I once imagined, but about getting the chance to see some family. In seeing Joe and Allison in person I truly felt that even though I am gaining so much by working in Romania, I am missing out on something important. There comes a time in a lot of peoples life when they have to move out and be more independent and it is no doubt that joining PC was the true beginning of that time in my life. Moving out does not have to mean for two years, and does not have to mean to the other side of the world. In seeing Joe and Allison I embraced home but I also missed home more than I have since coming to Romania. For the first time this year I wasn't totally sold on the possibility of extending my service.

This doesn't mean that I regret my decision to join Peace Corps at all. It is part of a path that I have chosen for myself that I have truly enjoyed from day one. It does mean that in choosing this path I have made sacrifices and it is only fair to finally face some of those sacrifices. After a beautiful rainy and overcast 3 days in Venice I said "so long" to Joe and Allison before boarding on the day's first bus out. It wasn't at all a sad goodbye. I had gone seventeen months without seeing them and only had ten left until our next meeting. Ten months, no sweat.

Thanks Joe and Allison for the great time in Venice and for taking time in your trip to meet up with me.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


Recently I have finished a book called "Yes Man" by Danny Wallace. You may have heard of the movie staring Jim Carry( When I first saw the trailers for the movie I thought that it was a pretty neat concept, a person who could only say "yes" to offers or invitations, but I never thought that it was based on a true story. I never actually ended up watching the movie but a friend of mine passed the book along and now, having read it, I notice that the concept fits well into my experience as a Peace Corps volunteer.

For those who have not read the book or seen the movie let me tell you a bit about the story. It starts with a guy who is pretty bummed out about loosing his girlfriend and for months he turns into kind of a loner. Finally one day, a few words spoken to him by a stranger on a bus set in motion several months of his "yes" adventure. He learns that saying "yes" to things that he would normally say "no" begins a chain of events that significantly changes his situation and ultimately, his outlook on life. He has some pretty wild experiences, meets really interesting people, sees things that he would have never seen otherwise, and forms lasting relationships. By only living a few months as a "yes man" his whole world changed. Of course it wasn't at all an easy task for him and evidently he suffered some hardships thanks to "yes".

How does this apply to my experience as a Peace Corps volunteer?

Like Danny, it was only a few simple words that inspired my adventure. I didn't receive those words from a stranger on a bus but from a friend at a bar. Like that stranger, the person who spoke to me has no idea of the impact that their words had. It is amazing that just a few simple words that one says can totally change someones life without the speaker ever knowing. That change can set in motion countless other interactions and changes that have a serious impact a world away.

I wouldn't consider myself a "yes man" but the most important piece of advice that a veteran PC volunteer can give new volunteers in my mind is "don't turn down an invitation". It typically refers to their first three months at site in which they are trying to integrate into their new community, making new contacts, and learn the culture. Saying "yes" worked well for me in that first three months and therefore I have tried to extend the practice throughout my service. It isn't always easy to say yes. Sometimes after a long, tiring day at school, the last thing you want to do is spend all night struggling though language and screwing up cultural norms. Sometimes its not such a great experience, but most of the time you can look back with at least a sense of accomplishment. You struggled though the language and, for the most part, succeeded. You made new contacts and friends that will surely help you in your time at site. Finally, you had fun. Reading this book at this point in service was a good reminder to go back to the first three months and accept more invitations. During the period in which I was reading "Yes Man" I have met new people, and I have done new things that have significantly add to my experience here in Romania.