In a few short months, I will be embarking on an adventure of a lifetime. I will be in Malawi, in southeast Africa, teaching young adults English and immersing myself in a culture completely foreign to me. I will be eating foods that I have never even heard of, living in accommodations that I am not accustomed to, and learning aspects of myself that I never knew existed. I am experiencing an array of emotions, but mostly I am excited to learn, observe and be completely out of my comfort zone.
Many people ask me why I decided to join the Peace Corps: Doesn’t the idea of living in a foreign land and community of strangers scare you? Of course it scares me, but that is the exact reason I am doing this. My feelings of being scared are trumped by the notion that I get to make even a slight difference in the community where I am placed. It is important for me to understand that I have a job to do — to inspire young people, but also to learn more from them in the process. Life is not truly lived unless you make bold choices and expand the zone of comfort that is holding you back.
The Peace Corps not only tests your comfortability levels, but people seem to forget that this is a professional organization. While you are working hard to learn about your surroundings and be culturally sensitive, you are also gaining valuable professional skills that will help you greatly in your career. The Peace Corps trains you how to adapt to any situation and be attuned to the culture.
Traveling has always been a dream of mine. Eating new foods, meeting people with different experiences, and seeing landscapes that do not exist in America were things I yearned for as a child. I have done some traveling in Europe and in South Africa, but being a tourist had its drawbacks. Do not get me wrong: The art, the culture, the food, and the architecture intrigued me to no end, but I felt like something was missing. I felt like an outsider. I was seeing countries on the surface instead of fully understanding what it meant to live there and immerse myself in the communities that were present.
If you work hard enough, the Peace Corps gives you the opportunity to integrate in your community. They require and encourage you to learn the local language, build relationships with community members, and even organize events that can help bring community members together. These events can range from HIV discussions, girl’s educational rights, consent, health, as well as dance and music. Community outreach builds lasting bonds with people, while engaging with issues that are present in the community.
The Peace Corps is not something that should be a spontaneous decision or a decision without thought or research. It is an organization that prides itself on global awareness and cultural understanding. If you are truly thinking about taking on this two-year commitment, I encourage you to ask questions, get in contact with a recruiter, and most importantly do your research. Research the countries cultural norms, look up what food is available, Google pictures of the landscape, and see if you can find stories of previous volunteers. As Peace Corps staff like to say, “It is the hardest job you will ever love.” Tiwonana!
Nicholas Martinez is a student at Glendale College studying journalism who received his bachelor’s degree in anthropology at University of California Santa Cruz. in 2016.