3. Welcome to the Peace Corps Family

Saturday, October 2, 2010

original post date: SETP 26

Welcome to the Peace Corps Family: “These are your people”

Peace Corps is an alphabet soup. It loves acronyms: PCV, PST, CD, IRD, PCD, APCD, ET, RPCV, MO. It’s kind of ridiculous the amount of things that are referred to as a string of capital letters; even Peace Corps often gets shortened to just PC. But you catch on pretty quickly. This is one of the many things we heard about during our days of staging.

If you’re still a little in the dark about what my schedule was like after leaving California, you’re not alone. Peace Corps often waits to tell you information till the last minute, so even I was unsure of exact schedules. But you learn quickly that you’ll get all the necessary info at some point, even if that’s just moments before you need that info. After leaving California, I was at “staging” in Washington DC. I got there a day early since I was coming from the west coast. My first catastrophe was the loss of my bags. I was in 4 different airports on Thursday: Santa Maria, LAX, O’Hare, and Reagan National. Somewhere along the way, my bags got lost. I was so worried…the people working at American were very pessimistic about me getting my bags anytime soon. They started asking me to describe what was in them in case the tags had come off, and no one could tell me what airport the bags were in, or had last been known to be in. This was very stressful for me, and was not resolved quickly, but to make that long story short—I got the bags back Saturday evening, with plenty of time before I left for Kyiv.

Friday evening though, I put the luggage crisis aside for a while to see Rae. My roommate from senior year of college lives in DC now, and she picked me up at the airport and we had dinner. Later that night I went back to my hotel room, where I found out that Jess (one of my closest friends, who also happens to be doing Peace Corps Ukraine…basically the biggest coincidence of my life) had been randomly assigned as my roommate. It was great catching up with her that night, as I hadn’t seen her all summer.

Staging was Friday. I loved it right away. Lots of it was logistics and paper work, review and general Peace Coprs policy. However, the atmosphere was so charged with energy, and the sessions were very interactive. All of us new Volunteers were so happy to be there, so happy to be seeing everyone for the first time. The PC application process can be very long (some people started applying up to a year and a half ago), as well as pretty lonely. So it’s wonderful to get to meet everyone for the first time. It’s great to be in a room with “our people” as our staging director put it. “These aer your people,” she said. “You understand each other, and don’t have to explain why or how or when to them. They get you.” And she’s totally right. As much as I was excited about Peace Corps, answering the questions “What is the Peace Corps?” “How long will you be gone?” “What exactly are you doing?” and “Where will you be?” can get tiring after repeating your answers for the umpteenth time. It’s great to be with people who know those answers, who don’t look at you like you’re crazy for wanting to do something so different with you life, and who often feel so similarly about so many things.

Staging was until Friday evening, but that night we were free to do what we liked. You might be wondering: what do PCV’s do on their last night in the States for 2 years? Well I can’t speak for everyone, but this is what we did—dinner at a restaurant in Georgetown, then take the Metro to the Mall where we sat near the Washington Monument just talking and hanging out. And guess who we met there: a group of Ukrainian kids! They were sitting really close to us, so we started talking to them–we talked about what to expect in Ukraine, and how they were liking the States. Gotta be a sign of some sort! Then had some ice cream on the walk back to the hotel. It was a great time…just getting to know some fellow Volunteers, plus meeting a couple Ukrainians too!!

Anyways, I started this entry out by talking about the alphabet soup of the PC. The acronym I liked the best (that I heard about from one of my fellow PC Trainees) is one that PCV’s in Africa have made up: WAWA. It means West Africa Wins Again and it’s used to describe a time when you feel awful, unhelpful, or unsuccessful as a Volunteer. You might be wondering why I like such an unhappy acronym. But I think I like the mentality behind it, even if I might be reading too much into it. It’s about admitting that sometimes your days in the Peace Corps might suck. You might feel lost and helpless. You might feel down and out. But there is still a hopefulness and a playfulness to the making that feeling a silly acronym. It represents how Volunteers persist and persevere. And hopefully you remember that even during the horrible, stressful times, there can still be a lightness to the situation. So when my bags get lost by the airlines, or when I am having a horrible day, I can remember that even when Ukraine Wins Again (UWAJ), “tomorrow is another day.”

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