I have spent the last couple of months reflecting on my time here so far and what will come of my final year of service and all I have are questions: “What am I doing here?” “Does it matter?” “What do I have to show for the time I’ve spent?” “What should I do next?” “Have I done enough?”
These questions all lead to my ever-changing definition of success.
I see the accolades and achievements showcased by the national Peace Corps headquarters of volunteers around the world doing amazing, life changing things – literally building things, planting things, and affecting so many lives. Volunteers that are helping to bring social justice awareness to issues like HIV, women’s rights, literacy and numeracy issues, clean water initiatives, and environmental education.
My fellow volunteers on island have started and completed multiple projects with multiple grants they’ve secured. Volunteers are featured locally, nationally, and internationally for their projects.
Sometimes I feel the pressure. I know that we’ve done so many things at our Community Center but it’s hard not to compare yourself to your fellow volunteers. I mean, these are the volunteers that PC is saying are successful, the high mark that we should reach for. It makes me laugh. Not that the people are not successful. It’s that I will never have that type of success. A staff member once told me that my Center would never be highlighted because it was too nice. I inherited a new building with new equipment. Things that are typically the culmination of a volunteer’s service just given to me on day one (actually they came in over a four month period). “So lucky,” is the phrase I’m often told of my site – and they are right. I am lucky.
But my work is behind the scenes, day-to-day, intangible, and often not PC reportable (because of their requirements). The truth is: I’m not going to be like everyone else, and finally, I’m ok with that.
These are some of major things that I wanted to accomplish in my PC experience:
1. Live abroad in another country – COMPLETED
The idea of living abroad was not something I thought I could or even wanted to do. It just seemed unrealistic and, honestly, a bit scary. I wanted to settle down and be comfortable – now I want to travel more and see the world.
2. Make new lifelong friends – IN PROGRESS
We’ve felt so blessed to meet so many amazing new friends both in Peace Corps and Jamaican nationals. Though we have only known many of them for a year, we are family.
3. Assimilate and respect a new culture – IN PROGRESS
Life in Jamaica is more than just beach and sun. There is truly a unique and challenging vibe to life here and you can either fight it or go with it. I have come to love and be frustrated with Jamaica like I would with a family member. I’ve learned that Americans are not always right, that we don’t live perfect lives. I’ve learned that wherever I go, there will always be an opportunity for mutual cross-cultural learning and that’s great for me and whomever I meet.
4. Participate in sustainable community development – IN PROGRESS
Michelle and I believe that whatever we start or take part of should be sustainable. We don’t want to do things for the sake of doing them. We want to be a part of projects that are intentional, effective, but more importantly, will live and thrive once our time with those projects have ended.
These are some of minor things that I wanted to accomplish in my PC experience:
1. Give Jamaicans a different story – COMPLETED
I hate stereotypes but I understand why we have them. Everyday is an opportunity for me to be a different person than people assume me to be. (ie. Asian, American, rich, tourist, business owner, etc…). I love seeing people realize that their assumptions are not truth and that they will see life differently in the future.
2. Become comfortable with spicy food – IN PROGRESS
Spicy food has always been a negative thing for me. Thankfully this country with their spicy scotch bonnet pepper has made me more tolerable. I still sweat like crazy, still find it painful at times, and still prefer savory and sweet but I’m thankful for the experience nonetheless. Scotch bonnet is one of the most spicy peppers in the world so I can only hope that when I return, things will be better, even pleasurable – again, I can only hope.
I guess when I look back at everything, the only question that really matters is, “If I had to leave tomorrow for any reason, would I believe my experience to be a waste of time?”
And of course the answer is, “No.”
I hope other volunteers around the island and around the world feel the same way. Unfortunately we all are trying to align ourselves to the epitome of what the perfect PC volunteer should be but I it’s impossible. We all do too many different things, live in different scenarios. There might be some overlap, some common emotions, struggles, and challenges that only PC volunteers would understand, but in the end, we still have our unique, individual experiences that cannot be compared to each other.
I guess that’s why I will only let myself define what success means to me, and even that is still in progress.