Thoughts for New Peace Corps Volunteers

We’ve started to hear from the incoming group of Volunteers (about 30 come to Jamaica each year) who will start their training in March. I know it’s an exciting time for them. When I was in their shoes, I was soaking up all the information I could find about Peace Corps in Jamaica. Being less than five months away from our departure, there are inevitably a good number of lessons we’ve learned on our journey. Maybe they can help the next generation of PCVs…

Words of Wisdom From Past Volunteers
Note: I did not write all these myself- many of these thoughts were shared with us when we first arrived in Jamaica.

  • Take a moment every now and then to remember that your job is to live, learn, and build relationships in another culture with the freedom to explore new things. For most people, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity.
  • Saying “Ahhright,” smiling and waving can get you out of awkward moments or out of having to talk to a stranger you’d rather not speak to. It’s also an acceptable response to most statements and questions you don’t understand.
  • Sometimes, doing your laundry will be the most productive thing you do in a day. Learn how to celebrate the simple things.
  • Rehearse the mantra, “I will empower, I will not enable.” Many volunteers try to do too much (or complete aspects of a project that should be done by a counterpart). Don’t forget, as a Peace Corps Volunteer you should be working yourself out of a job, not into one.
  • Keep in mind that everything you do or say leaves a permanent impression about Americans.
  • Work and daily life here can be simply draining. Find something every month that you can look forward to and that restores you or gives you a change of pace.

My Own Personal (and Practical) Advice for New Volunteers

  • PCV mantrasPeace Corps sites across the globe, and especially in Jamaica, are incredibly diverse. People will tell you “don’t have expectations.” If, like me, you find that to be impossible, try expanding your expectations to a very wide range of possibilities. You may be in a big town with traffic, internet, an apartment with an uninvolved landlord. Or you may be in the bush with no running water and share an outhouse with your seven host-family members. Are you prepared to “bloom where you are planted?”
  • “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Everyone has their own, unique Peace Corps experience and each is valid in its own way. Comparing your work, accomplishments, and site to other volunteers is only going to bring you down.
  • We do tend to have more amenities than most PC posts. However, just because a majority of volunteers have a certain amenity, does not mean you are entitled to it. We are lucky to have PC staff who do their best to accommodate our preferences, but still: come willing and open.
  • Always check the inside of your shoes before you put them on your feet. You never know when a roach or spider will decide to snuggle up in your toe box. I’ve been rewarded by this habit a number of times.
  • If you have a choice of seats on a cross-country bus ride, take the second bench. It has more legroom than the first and fourth rows. It’s always the last row to fill up and the cross-seat (aisle seat) will stay empty more often because that’s how all the back rows have to exit, so you get wiggle room more often.
  • Any food items that are not sealed in glass or aluminum should be stored in your fridge. This will prevent loss due to ants, mice, and other pests. Also, get a sealable container that can fit your utensils- don’t let them sit open or in a drawer where things can poop on them.
  • Make friends with the old ladies. The older generation will surprise you with how they much they are involved (taking care of extended family, helping in the community). In many ways, they are still the backbone of this country. If you’re ever lost or in need of help, you can always trust an old Jamaican lady- she will make it her duty to take care of you.
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