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.

Thinking about Peace Corps??

Dear Person Contemplating Joining Peace Corps,

I imagine that you’re at a transition point in your life. Perhaps you’ve just graduated, perhaps you’re going through a career change, perhaps you have an itch for something more that can’t be scratched. Whatever the reason, here you are: contemplating joining Peace Corps.

But should you? Is it right for you?

Honestly, you might not know that until you’ve arrived. You can research by reading books and official publications or by talking with current/returned volunteers, but everything you read and hear will probably tell you the same thing: every person’s experience is different. Your Peace Corps life will be uniquely shaped by your country, program, and site. 

I’d like to think, though, that there are a few things that are universal throughout the Peace Corps world, and those things tend all to revolve around how you yourself will change - for the better and for the worse - because of your time in Peace Corps.*

‘Sanitary’ will become an obsolete concept. You will eat on mats that you know are saturated in urine. You will prepare food on counters that also serve as chicken roosts. You will not have consistent/frequent access to soap. You will eat street food that is undoubtedly questionable. You will be dirty, dusty, and sweaty at all times. You will have mind over body battles to force yourself to bucket shower in the winter. Bugs, lizards, chickens, ducks, and mice will crap on everything. These things will be ok. You’ll adjust. The sterile environment of the States will become a distant odd memory or a constant fantasy.

Your body, though, might not adjust as quickly. You will have parasites and infections and illnesses that you had never heard of before training. You will be constantly constipated. Or go the opposite extreme. I hate to say it, but you will probably poop in your pants at least once. You will learn to vomit over a squat toilet and into a plastic bag during a bus ride. You will discuss your bodily functions openly and enthusiastically with other volunteers. No topic will be taboo.

The way you communicate will completely transform. Learning a language from scratch through immersion is a powerful experience. You will learn to have complex communications though expressions, gestures, and basic vocabulary. You will learn to bond with another human being through silence. You will answer the same basic questions over and over and over again. You may never achieve the ability to discuss ideas and concepts. You will develop a new English language which consists of pared down vocabulary and grammatical structures. You will actively think of each word before you speak. Your speech patterns will slow. You will have to define words whose meanings you had always taken for granted. You will learn to listen. 

Your concept of money will entirely alter. Paying more than $1 for anything will cause you to pause and question your purchase. You will understand value in the context of a different economic system. You will learn to barter, even on cheaper items. You will consistently feel as though you have been cheated on the price. You will be enraged by all prices upon returning to the States.

You will embrace the thrilling dichotomies of thrift versus splurge and ration versus binge. No one knows how to budget like a Peace Corps volunteer. And no one can binge like one.

You will be discontented with your work. You will wonder – and scream to the heavens – about the benefit of your presence. You will feel lost in unstructured expectations and crushed by promising ideas fallen to the side. Your expectations will fade into an unexpected reality. You will learn to celebrate small victories. You will look at mountains and see mole hills. You will try to tackle the impossible. Maybe you’ll succeed. Maybe you’ll just pick yourself up and take aim at another impossibility.

You will learn to do all of this through pure self-motivation. You will be the one to drag yourself out of bed and out the door. You won’t have anyone holding your hand or pushing your forward. Just you. You will become a stronger person for yourself, by yourself.

You will be a celebrity in your community. That status comes will hardships and benefits that will ineradicably change you. You will be the exception to the societal rules. You will be the foreigner, the one set apart. You will receive privileges and have special attention/status because of your nationality. You will always have eyes on you. You will have joined as an agent of culture exchange and understanding, but you will still find yourself falling into an ‘us versus them’ mentality. Use it. Consider it. Contemplate the value we place on people because of arbitrary characteristics. You will come away from your experience more attune to your own merits, to those that are deserved and to those that are given.

Your culture of personal space, one that maybe you have always taken for granted, will be challenged. You will wonder why you need an entire room to yourself while no one else even has a bed to himself. You still won’t want to give your room up. Privacy will be a privilege or a rarity, not a right.

You will lose all control of your emotions and be on an unpredictable roller coaster of extreme ups and downs. You will go from happy and confident to sullen and tearful by things as simple as ants in your candy or yet another child saying ‘Hello!’ Your highs will be high, but they will be fragile. Your lows will feel inescapable. Your family and friends in the States probably won’t understand this. Your isolation will force you to become your own support system. You will become aware of yourself in the context of solely being yourself.

Your government-issued friends will be your reprieve. The love and closeness you share with people back in the States won’t change, but it will be your fellow volunteers who understand. They will be friendships forged from necessity, and they will be deep and fervent.

You will witness a whole new way of life, and you will question your notion of necessity. You will consider your personal wealth, and people will constantly remind you of it. You will discover what your ‘needs’ are to live a productive, satisfied life. I hope you will remember that when you return to a culture of plenty.

You will be the biggest product of your Peace Corps work. You will change. And you will bring that change back with you.


*I insert a disclaimer: I believe the above assertions to be true for PC Cambodia, a program in its 6th generation of volunteers; I cannot speak with authority on other countries’ programs.

It’s comforting to know that we’re all going through the same thing. No matter what kind of a front someone puts up, they’ve still got the same worries as I do. And not just here in El Salvador, but Peace Corps around the world. There are Volunteers all over the world that are missing their families, dealing with communication issues, shitting their pants. We all experience “what the hell” moments, but it’s all part of an incredible experience.
—  Meghan
PC YiD El Salvador 2013

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.


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

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


Communist Party warns that right-wing is trying to establish fascist dictatorship in Venezuela 

The Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV) warned today that the pro-imperialist right, under the command of the United States, is trying to establish a fascist dictatorship in the country and to destroy all the conquests of the people. He called on the workers, peasants, middle layers to organize to deepen the revolution.

Oscar Figuera, Secretary General of the Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV), reiterated the need to defend the conquests of the people against fascism and appeasement.