Last year, I wrote a post giving advice for Group 85 before they arrived on the island. That advice still definitely applies. Believe it or not, Group 86 arrives NEXT WEEK. Once again, it feels a little surreal to be in the position, as the “seniors” on the island. I have a multitude of thoughts on having lived two years on the JamRock…sometime I’ll compile them into a book. In the meantime, group 86, you have this to get you through. First, (a repeat from last year) the best advice I received from an RPCV in Moldova.
As true now as it was then. Embracing the small wins and widening someone’s perspective even a LITTLE bit is huge. PC likes the numbers on the VRFs, but don’t get caught up in those. In the same vein, PC and “the media” (what does that even mean?) like to publish stories about PCVs that show them getting piped water to their village or creating a zillion new jobs or teaching their community members how to do yoga or appreciate the finer qualities of French film. It’s easy to call these people “super-volunteers” and idolize them. Don’t compare yourself to them because you don’t know how much TV they binge watch, or how their community members are 2 hours late for meetings all the time. They’re human, so adjust your expectations accordingly.
Bloom where you’re planted. We don’t get any choice in our country of service (well we didn’t USED TO *ahem*) or site, so we have to make do with what we’re given. PC/Jamaica tries really hard to place you in sites with projects that suit your interests and skills. But no site is perfect. “You signed up for this hardship” is a phrase often thrown around in PC, and it sounds a bit callous, but it’s true. That is one of the best skills you can develop as a PCV- making the best of a not great situation.
Head’s up– Jamaica is, in fact, a foreign country. Yes, the official language is English and yes, we’re only a 1.5 hour flight from America but this is NOT home! This fact took me a looong time to realize. Just like a swear word in Spanish lacks the same meaning and punch that it does in our native English, an unkind or rude comment said in passing here has twice as much sting. Which explains why street harassment is such a huge problem for young women. It’s extremely hard for me to ignore SH (which is what they’ll tell you to do in training), but I have to externalize it. If I let it become personal, I’d have gone crazy a while ago.
Cultivate that mind. It’s easy to let your brain rot in the Peace Corps. Perhaps it’s just my personality type, but I’ve always consumed knowledge (in various formats) like it’s going out of style. You’re likely to have a lot of free time on your hands, so watch good TV shows, (Star Trek!), read good books, and spread the good word of learning where ever you go. One of my proudest moments as a PCV is when my computer was broken and my host family borrowed my external hard drive and freely, willingly watched BBC Life with no prompting from me. That isn’t a success story I’m going to put on my VRF, but it’s a win in my book.
You’re going to get a lot of judgement from people back home and RPCVs who should really know better. Why? Because you’re serving in Jamaica. “Beach corps” or “posh corps.” Take a deep breath and try not get rude. It’s hard. “Oh that must be a hard assignment!” “Oh, what is Peace Corps even doing there? It seems like such a peaceful country” (I kid you not, I have gotten that. She clearly didn’t have an understanding of what PC even is, but we’re not NATO Peacekeepers.) The best way to combat this is doing third goal stuff– telling people about Jamaica, better yet, having them visit and see the real thing.
See this island! Host visitors! This is a popular vacation destination, but tourists see such a tiny percentage of what Jamaica has to offer.
Understand that you’re going to change during this experience. Not all of those are suitable for a resume, but you’re going to be a different person when you go home. This will define you from now on. Your friends at home, however, won’t have undergone this transformation. It’ll be hard to relate to them.
In conclusion, just remember: