In a few weeks, Group 85 will arrive pon di island. This is a surreal milestone for me and the rest of Group 84. Weren’t we just in staging in Miami, awkwardly introducing ourselves? Didn’t we just swear in as official Peace Corps Volunteers? No, it really has been nearly a year since we got here. And boy, what a year it has been. There have been dark days and bright ones, new friends and dear family visitors. Cliff jumping and races. Gardens and classrooms. They say the days are long, but the months are short. How true. So, having accumulated some wisdom from a year on the ‘Rock, I thought I’d impart some advice to our new group of Trainees. Congrats, y’all and buckle up!
First and foremost, the best piece of advice that I got from a friend who served in Moldova:
But really. Many PCVs are idealist, altruistic types. You’re not going to save the world, might as well accept that now. Being realistic, but optimistic is going to be key to surviving service. You gotta focus on the “small wins.” Sometimes, leaving my house to go to the store and having a positive interaction with a Jamaican male is what I call a successful day. Or seeing a kids you’ve been teaching for months pick up a plastic bottle and put it in the recycling bin. Celebrate those small wins:
This wild and crazy experience is an emotional rollercoaster:
They’ll tell you in staging. The highs are higher and the lows are lower. Figure out who in your group and among other PCVs on island you can reach out to and talk. You may have some great friends back home, but only your fellow group members and other PCVs (and staff) can really relate to what you’re feeling. I can’t tell you how many times good friends here have talked me down from the cliff.
Jamaica runs on a different schedule called “island time.” Sometimes, things are slow at site:
I wish I was kidding.
Cell phones are magical. When meetings and events start late or you’re having an emotional breakdown, your favorite PCVs are just a phone call or text away:
With an external hard drive, the wide, wide world of trashy AND sophisticated TV is yours. I have never watched so much TV in my life. Don’t mainline Breaking Bad or Deadwood or something really dark. You won’t be pleasant to be around. Take breaks with Modern Family or Arrested Development.
American fast food becomes a luxury that you look forward to all week. We turned our nose up at joints like Burger King, Pizza Hut and KFC at home, but now? Things are different. We call this phenomenon “Peace Corps goggles.” Applies to love interests as well.
Don’t compare your site and your experience to another PCVs. That only leads to trouble. Be present in your community, mentally and physically, and do what you can, when you can in your site. Everyone’s circumstances are different. Don’t do this:
Keep in touch with your friends back home, but realize that they’re going to move on with their lives. For younger volunteers, it is surprisingly difficult to watch friends getting engaged, married and popping out kids. Not that we’d rather be going through those socially acceptable milestones of adulthood, but it is a bizarre sensation to watch all that unfold from afar.
The PCJ rumor mill is ASTOUNDING. Proceed with caution.
You’ll come here with 30 members of your group. You’ll quickly become family. You’re not going to leave with 30 members. There are a lot of reasons that people leave the island, not all of them by choice, but don’t judge them. PCVs can be a judgmental lot.
The Jamaican concept of time is…not the same as ours. People are almost always late to meetings, don’t come to events because it is raining (even indoor ones), just don’t show up, say they’ll do things and not follow through, and generally be frustrating. Jamaicans also LOVE bureaucracy and hierarchy so just get used to it.
Young women, be careful in your interactions with Jamaican men. (not all men of course, just generally the random ones on the street or the beach)
If you wind up in a small community (or even if you don’t), get used to living in a bubble. Everyone is going to know your business. If you buy ONE Red Stripe at the tuck shop on the corner, you’re going to get “mind yuh doan get drunk.” And…just get used to people commenting on your weight.
Public transportation is an adventure in and of itself. Lesson 1:
My biggest piece of advice is to remember that your Peace Corps service is what you make of it. If you’re determined to be miserable, guess what? You will be. Times will get tough at site, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. You’ll be a better person for serving and will probably leave your community or some of your community members better off for having known you.
Here is some more advice from some fellow PCJ Volunteers.
Get to know this website well. Source of many hours of entertainment.
(Please note that I have a pretty wide cynical streak in me. My sense of humor reflects that.)