Don’t join the Peace Corps

You heard me. Don’t do it. I’m telling you, it’s going to break your heart.

The Core Expectations for Volunteers states you are expected to “serve where the Peace Corps asks you to go, under conditions of hardship, if necessary…” What it doesn’t state however is just what hardship means.

Right now you’re thinking, “Oh. There’ll be no flush toilets or showers. I can handle that. I might have to squash a few spiders, but for the high calling of changing the world, I think I can put up with those things.”

But the truth is, hardship isn’t the quirky and fun hardship you’re expecting, where each new day brings adventure upon crazy adventure, more wonderful than the next. True hardship is much more sobering.

During your service you might have to bury a neighbor. Or watch helplessly as your host family is torn to pieces by corruption. You might show up to school to learn one of your students was killed by a classmate. Your host sister could be kidnapped and forced to marry a man she’s never met. You might witness abuse, violence and mistreatment. You may see your best student lose to a kid from another school because his bribe was the biggest. Your dog might be fed a needle, just to quiet it down, forever.

And if none of that happens, then something else will. There’s just no knowing how hard it will be or it what way. It could be dealing with other volunteers is your biggest challenge. Or that you can never live up to the expectations of your host organization. Or that the Internet is so accessible you spend your entire day trolling Facebook, jealous of all the lives continuing on back home.

And what about all the things you’ll give up? Your boyfriend might not wait two years for you. You’ll put your career on hold. Your familiar support networks probably won’t be around – there’ll be no gym, no fast food joint, no car to drive, no family to visit. The stress and diet could make you lose thirty pounds—or gain thirty—whichever you don’t want.

The Peace Corps uses phrases like, “Life is calling. How far will you go?” and in a breath you’re ready to sign your name on the line. But two years is a long, long time and in the middle you find the world you wanted to change is a confusing and complex puzzle of which you are just one, tiny piece.

So please, if you’re not ready for the heartbreak in the hardship, don’t join the Peace Corps.

Or do.

Because you might just find that all your blood, sweat and tears are worth it – worth the pain, worth the time and worth the investment in the people for whom your heart breaks. Because you might learn some of the most important lessons of your life – that a broken heart can heal stronger than it was before, that a softened heart has more compassion for the world, and that in between its cracks and fissures is the only place where true beauty and grace can grow.


Cue the photos of cute children!

I have over 150 students that I teach each day at school, but the ones who live in our small section of the village are “my kids”. Guys, my kids are so good. They hang outside my door for hours. I give them the sweet things I cook on the weekends. They laugh, they squabble, they yell at each other; they wrestle and think of excuses to come into my house, and are occasionally obnoxious. My kids are exactly that - kids - and they are so, so good. 

My mom sent a package and three weeks later I finally got it in my grubby little hands. After lots of miscommunication, I thought it was lost, until a student, Florida, helped me and got it where it needed to go.

The inside was amazing, she fit so much inside a flat rate package! She has some magic powers when it comes to shoving things inside of a suitcase or box–hence the reason I usually ask for her help when packing. But wow! She even sent some kids books which will be perfect for the classes I’ll teach at the Primary School next month, and I’m so stoked to have cinnamon and Italian herbs to cook with. AND CHEESE! Velveeta! I have no idea what I’m going to do with it yet, but it will definitely taste better than the expired cheese from the supermarket that smells like the inside of my dog’s ears.

Thanks mom! 💙 Time to test out some Italian herbs!


Kaili, Guizhou, China - China has about 55 ethnic minority groups and Han is the majority. The Miao ethnic minority group is one I have been able to learn a little about mostly because their is a large population in Guizhou province. I have visited several Miao villages and have many Miao students. Miao people also speak their own language which sounds pretty cool. My favorite part is their beautiful clothing and jewelry.

On Being a Chinese-American Peace Corps Volunteer in Georgia

This is a blog post that is extremely important to me personally; although I’ve been speaking about making this post for a long while, I wanted it to be absolutely finished prior to uploading it. It’s not quite polished up, but I hope my series of thoughts helps in understanding daily life for me in Georgia.

A follow-up blog post written 9 months later here!

Of course, no matter where I am, my race and ethnicity permeate all my interactions. Some in America claim we live in a post-racial, color-blind society, but regardless of if we do or not, that’s not the goal anyway.

Which one of these is not like the others?

I want to make it clear that this blog post consists entirely of my own personal experiences as a Chinese-American Peace Corps Volunteer here in Georgia; and the resulting reflections are purely my own as well.

Keep reading

6 Months of PCV Moments

Time is flying by! I have been “In Country,” in Madagascar, as a Peace Corps Volunteer for 9 months now, and I have lived in the village where I will serve for two years, for 6 months already. …Sorry for that confusing sentence with a lot of numbers. 

Basically, I am a 4th of the way through with my service and that feels crazy to me because “two years” seemed like a really long time at the onset but it is going by scarily fast. 

(Sweet green oranges and a canoe under a bridge in Tsarasambo, the village where I live)

Being a Peace Corps Volunteer in a astounding country like Madagascar has a lot of moments where I have found things so utterly absurd, or hilarious, or eye-opening, or sad, or a combination of all of the above. These past 6 months at “Site” (Peace Corps lingo for “village where a volunteer serves”) have provided me with many of these moments and I have documented a few. 

Some of these moments were at Site and some were in larger cities with other volunteers. Pretty much these anecdotes probably would have been Facebook statuses or something (I’m not ashamed to admit it!) if I had better access to internet, so instead, I am posting them here! 

Here is a little taste of what my last 6 months as an official Peace Corps Volunteer have been like… in blurb format (alternating bold/unbold to differentiate):


I feel like a Disney Princess with all of these critters running around my yard and through my house as they please, each and every day. Cats, rats, snakes, ugly old roosters, cute little baby chickens, geese, ducks, countless lizards, and even a bat! Maybe if I sing sweetly enough they’ll do my chores for me. 

PCV 1: Ugh I wish I could stop eating all of this fried street food all of the time.

PCV 2: Yeah, but it’s all there is and this fried banana is so good.

PCV 1: But it’s not like anything I’m eating is even giving me diarrhea-

PCV 2: –so you can lose the weight?

PCV 1: Exactly. 

In fact you CAN fit 26 adults, 3 children, and a few live chickens in the back of a pick up truck. 

The “you were in the bathroom for so long, I thought you fell in” joke is a bit more entertaining when your “toilet” is a big hole in the ground filled with poop. 

After heavy rains, all of Madagascar becomes a Slip n’ Slide. Muddy hills are not my friend. If only I had a toboggan or a sled or maybe a “sahafa” (Malagasy shallow wicker pan for separating rice that resembles a snow saucer)… Then I would look like I was supposed to be on my ass the whole way down…

Sometimes I use my Mary Poppins umbrella as a walking stick to stabilize myself against the slippery and evil gravity. But my umbrella is a bit too short, so I walk like a limping pimp. There is no TV here so crowds of Malagasy people gather to watch me maneuver inch by inch down the wet hill.

One PCV to the other: So which do you prefer -constipation or diarrhea? 

Other PCV: Let’s make a pro and con list!   

I’ve always heard that roosters like to yell at the break of dawn. And now I have been witness to such an event numerous times. What I don’t understand though, is why at least 4 roosters in my neighborhood need to have a 5 minute long “call and response” session every morning at 4 am. WTF are they talking about? 

When it is sunny outside, I leave out my solar panel so I can use a light at night. When it is raining, I put out a bucket so I can have clean drinking water. I am one with nature.

Sometimes when I go out to really obscure villages I am reminded that most of these people see everyone they love or have ever known every single day of their lives. As someone who is always moving around and missing loved ones no matter where I am -the thought astounds me. 

One of my biggest questions before bedtime would be: are these red dots on my foot mosquito bites, flea bites, or parasy. The latter would require tweezers, a syringe and a strong stomach. 

I’m not sure if there is anything more empowering than the satisfaction of ripping apart your own toe with a knife to remove a parasy (gross bug thing) and the hundreds of little eggs that have nestled in to make a home there.

This is your Eviction Notice muthafuckers! Call yo'selves a toe truck cuz you gotta find another toe

I don’t love it when the town crazy lady with a body like a skeleton and eyes like a demon runs after me and yells in my face. And all of the Malagasy people just stand by and laugh.

In the right mood, a bouncy drive in an NGO’S 4x4 on a muddy, red dirt road in a rain storm past banana groves and rice paddies, can be a pretty thrilling time …until I look out the window and see all of the people holding banana leaves as umbrellas and carefully maneuvering around the slippery road while carrying live chickens, bunches of wood, or babies on their backs so they can continue with their work despite the weather. It’s not an adventure. It’s life.

(A drive in a 4x4 on a muddy road in a rainstorm to reach a small village 6km from the main road)

It’s probably best to not give raw carrots to kids with bad/no teeth.

I thought I’d go out on a limb and ask Malagasy students in an English class what their mothers do for work (preparing for an opportunity to explain that it is okay for women to have jobs). After a few answers of cleaning the house, cooking rice, and taking care of children, the local “English” teacher asked if “servant” would be a good answer. 

We have a long way to go. 

It’s a pleasant 75-80 degrees Fahrenheit outside and Malagasy people are freezing. They are wearing winter coats and jackets! I’m just happy to not be sweating my face off for once.

Three female PCVs walking down the street in the capital city:
They pass a group of men who ogle and yell.
The girls continue walking with no more than an eye roll and slight annoyance.
Further down the road, the girls see a bakery with pastries. 

The girls ogle and yell. 

After a few months in this village, I’ve come to accept the fact that no matter how integrated I become, I will never fully know what is going on. BUT, as time passes, I will become more comfortable with that reality.
Except for today when the Doctor (not the David Tennant one) handed me a mega phone and told me to make an impromptu speech in Malagasy, in front of hundreds of people. 

Yep. Knowing wtf was going on woulda been nice. 

(An impromptu speech in Malagasy for the National Bednet Distribution. I opted out of the megaphone.)

I have finally realized after 5 months that when my neighbor asks me to come to her house and take bananas…she doesn’t want me to pay her for them. They were always a gift. Whoops. You can take the American out of America but it’s hard to take the mentality away. 

Bargaining with a taxi driver in the big city: 

One man says 7,000, PCVs say 5,000
Another driver shows up offering 6,000. 

One PCV: “he’s blind”
Other PCV, “oh well, we’ll save 1,000 ariary (30 cents USD).”
They pile in car.

One time I was soaking some beans overnight so they would be soft enough to cook. When I opened the container the following day, there was a large rat poop floating above the beans. In America I probably would have tossed all of the beans in the trash and eaten some bread instead. But this is Madagascar. I scooped out the poop, soaked the beans in some diluted bleach (Sur Eau), and then boiled them like normal. Whatever the bleach didn’t kill, the boiling water did! Nice try rat! 

I thought I was getting a pretty dark tan, until I finally took my weekly shower and realized that my new bronze color was mostly just a thick layer of dirt.

At the program today, many people were referring to me as the “vazaha” (a slightly derogatory word for white foreigner) so people who hadn’t met me yet would know who to go to. I asked that they please call me by my name. My friend stood up to make an announcement: “This fat white person here is our friend. She is not vazaha, she is called Jenna.”

One battle at a time…


Caracas, Venezuela: Communist Youth of Venezuela (JCV) at the march against fascism and the U.S.-backed coup attempt, in solidarity with President Nicolas Maduro and the Bolivarian Revolution, February 16, 2014.

Photos by Yerohan Ortiz