A: The professional attributes that I plan to use, and what aspirations I hope to fulfill, during my Peace Corps Service
I like that this statement is in regards to aspirations and not expectations, because during the last five months of learning everything I can about Peace Corps, listening to RPCVs describe their experiences, and dreaming about what my service might be like, I have come to understand that no two volunteers are alike in their experiences, and that there is hardly a “typical” tour with Peace Corps. Having any sort of expectations would, then, be fruitless, while in contrast, having aspirations seems more flexible and hopeful, just as I feel about beginning my service.
The professional attributes that I hope to make use of are my sense of patience when working in an unstructured environment, my excellent listening skills, my flexibility, and my uncanny sense of humor in frustrating situations. I like to occasionally take a step back from whatever I’m working on to gain a perspective of the bigger picture. From there I think about the things I want to accomplish, and I set goals for myself, knowing that accomplishing small milestones will help me keep going towards whatever it is I’m working on. Knowing that I will be working in an unstructured situation, I think this will keep me from feeling overwhelmed or hopeless if progress doesn’t come as quickly as I want it to. I know that the professional environment I’ll be working in will be vastly different than what I’m used to, but I know I will succeed if I can keep in mind the overall reason for me serving and not get lost in the details.
Another attribute that will help me is the fact that I am an excellent listener. Having taught elementary school for several years, I know the importance of giving someone my full attention and making sure I understand him or her before acting on whatever it is that we are discussing. I have mediated arguments between five year-olds, I have listened to parents worried about social and academic situations, and I have given my full attention to colleagues who need to vent about their day. In my community and with my counterpart, it will be much more important for me to first understand what is being asked of me before I worry if I am being understood.
I am extremely laid back and flexible when it comes to working with other people. I understand that all of my ideas may not be the best ones for the task at hand, so I’m more than willing to listen to what others have to contribute and find the best way to solve a problem. I am also flexible when it comes to plans – it does not disturb or upset me when things are changed around to accommodate someone’s needs. I have heard the term on more than one occasion that someone is on “Africa time” and I can appreciate that my community and counterparts might have a different way of conducting their days. Something that goes hand-in-hand with being flexible is my sense of humor in situations that are more frustrating and less amusing. I have learned in life that it is a waste of energy to hold onto anger or ruminate over something that I have no control over. It is much more effective for me to find something funny to laugh at and then move on with solving whatever it is that has presented itself as a roadblock. I believe that every single day I am presented with a choice of whether I want to become frustrated and mad, or whether I want to be happy. Nine times out of ten I’m going to make the choice to take a breath, and then smile (although occasionally it may take me a minute to get there.) At this point I am just so happy and honored to become a part of this organization, that very little could fluster me or deter me from going through this experience with anything less than an open mind and open eyes.
I know that my aspirations may change throughout my service, but now they stand as:
• Share my knowledge and experience as an elementary school teacher with my counterparts to introduce new ideas into Ugandan classrooms. I hope to serve as an outside resource and sounding board for new teachers who are seeking a different way to accomplish their goals.
• Think creatively about how to use the resources available to enhance students’ school experiences.
• Learn about the Ugandan culture and people, including becoming proficient (fluent even?) in the language.
• Represent my home country well, sharing holidays, my family traditions, and my passion for the University of Florida athletics.
• See as much as Uganda as possible and take enough pictures to make everyone I know wish they were there to see it as well.
• Gain a better worldview and understanding of developing nations’ struggles.
• Share Ugandan culture with my family and friends at home through letters and pictures, so they may better understand how I’m a part of a bigger picture.
• Be completely open to falling flat on my face and having to start over in order to help my community reach their goals.
• Building lasting friendships with my host family, community members, and other PCVs.
B: My strategies for working effectively with host country partners to meet expressed needs
From what I’ve learned throughout the application process, and speaking with other RPCVs, patience and positivity are much more important than a want for progress. As an elementary school teacher, and someone who has worked with children for almost the past decade, I have become extremely patient when it comes to working with others for the benefit of a school or other organization. I understand that in order to initiate any sort of change or to be taken seriously when introducing new ideas into an already established education system, I will first have to build trust and rapport with my counterpart and community members. This will take time, and I am willing to be patient and grow the relationships into ones that will help both my counterparts and me. I am fully prepared to be both surprised and humbled by my experience working as a Peace Corps volunteer, so I will need to take the time to truly understand what the needs are of the community and where I fit in before I try to introduce any new ideas.
I also understand the importance of maintaining a positive attitude, as much of what I experience will be vastly different from what I’m used to. I am a very positive person already, and while I know that might be tested during my service, I am not worried about becoming so bogged down that I forget why I’m there in the first place.
C: My strategies for adapting to a new culture with respect to my own cultural background
I have had the opportunity to travel a small amount and experience a new culture through the eyes of an American. While there is a stereotype of an American traveler berating anything not up to his standard of living at home, I consider myself lucky to be someone who is curious and open to new ideas and ways of doing things, rather that someone who is more stubborn and closed off from anything different. Listening to people speak about their homes and families always makes me want to experience where they come from. Paying attention to what is around me, and truly listening to my host family describe how things are done will spark enough of an interest in me to want to dive in and experience it for myself. I love learning the nuances of a new culture, and beginning to appreciate them and perhaps even participate in them. When I traveled to France I was tickled when I got to kiss people on the cheek upon greeting them. The act is so simple, yet so different from home. I was very fortunate to grow up in a household where differences were appreciated, not picked apart or belittled. I didn’t even realize that this was special until I met other people who had no desire ever to travel outside of their home county, and certainly no desire to experience anything “different”. Knowing that I do possess that curiosity to experience cultures different from my own makes me that much more appreciative of the way I was raised, and that much more excited to begin learning how to live respectfully and productively within a Ugandan community.
D: The skills and knowledge I hope to gain during pre-service training to best serve my future community and project
During pre-service training I am truly looking forward to learning all that I can about Ugandans, their culture, history, families, and communities. I know that the better I am able to integrate into the community I am placed in, the better chance I will have to reach someone and make a difference. I am especially interested in learning how to cook and make a home, these are things I loved about growing up and living in the United States; feeling like an adult who could take care of herself and contribute to her family and neighbors. I am looking forward to being able to do the same thing (eventually) in Uganda.
I am also excited about studying the Lugandan language and becoming proficient enough to carry on a professional conversation and communicate with my neighbors enough to share about ourselves. In speaking with RPCVs from all over the world, I understand that learning the language is the single most important thing I can do as a PCT to improve my chances of having a successful and enjoyable Peace Corps service.
Lastly, I am very interested in learning more about the education system that is in place in Uganda. I only know what I have read so far, but that may be vastly different from the experiences that teachers are having in their classrooms, just as is the case sometimes here in the US. While I have teaching experience and skills that are valuable, knowing where they fit into to the bigger picture in Uganda will help me better apply them once I am in my community.
E: How I think Peace Corps service will influence my personal and professional aspirations after my service ends
I am very open at this point as to what I wish for my life after I return to the US. I am confident that my time living and working in another county will raise my awareness level of the needs of developing nations, specifically the educational needs of Uganda, and I hope that that awareness does not fade away once I am back in the states. I hope that I will have developed relationships worth holding onto, so that I want both to return to Uganda at another point in my life, and to travel to other countries to learn about more cultures and people. Depending on the success of my service, I can see myself wanting to continue the work I do there; helping school systems in developing nations become institutions worth fighting for, with good teachers who are effective and caring educators. I hope to share my experiences with both friends and colleagues here in the United States to show them that the rest of the world isn’t a homogenous group of people living in poverty, but a rich mixture of individuals who deserve thought and respect. I hope that I honor the third goal of the Peace Corps well and change some stereotypes that Americans may have about Africa in general, and Uganda in specific.