I often wonder about what people think when they look at my life under a magnifying glass. I served my country; I spent two years abroad in a developing country working on the grassroots level as part of a community as one of the people. Yet, in a sense, I was always an outsider; I was always someone separate. I was the American in the community. I was “special,” whether or not I deserved that status. I think back to my time as a Peace Corps volunteer and sometimes it literally just feels like a dream… like a far away, distant land that I made up inside my head. I still keep in contact with my friends and students, but it is different. And honestly, I can’t expect for it to remain the same because I no longer live in Albania. I don’t even live on the same continent. Everything is so different. Despite my best efforts to try to keep everything the same, especially when it comes to my students and the relationships I built while living in Albania. Everything is not the same. It will never be the same. I have a completely new life now.
This new life… well, it’s strange. I can’t deny that it is amazing. It is great. It is new. It is challenging. It is everything I ever dreamed for myself. I am learning new things about myself and about the United states, but… is this what I want? I think this is a question that so many people, especially Millenials, struggle with. What do we want? We are all pulled in so many directions. We are socialized to desire two conflicting lifestyles. On one hand we should be independent and strive for our own personal desires and success in life, but on the other hand we should settle down and pick a partner, pick a career, pick a “life”. I know that I have made many good decisions in my life (and I am extremely happy, and satisfied, with where my decisions have led me to this point), but still I don’t have all the answers, and that is f*cking frustrating. Why does society make me feel like I should have all the answers?!… when in reality nobody has all the answers… and that’s the point…
In Albania, I met so many people that changed me, that shaped me, that made me a better person. I wouldn’t be who I am today without the experience that I had serving in Peace Corps. Coming back home is harder than most people anticipate. Being replaced – by new American Peace Corps volunteers, by sustainability, or not being replaced at all – is difficult. And then readjusting to the culture that once was my own, but now feels so foreign. I don’t know, honestly. It’s hard. Harder than one can imagine. The day that the new Peace Corps volunteers in Albania wanted to kick previous volunteers out of our Facebook group (a group that once meant solidarity, trust, and so much more beyond a social network) was the day that I realized how much my life had changed in the past half-year. I realize that sounds lame to base so much upon a social network group, but when I was in Albania Facebook and other social networks were my only connection to other volunteers and my family/friends back home. But, I’m not a current Peace Corps volunteer anymore. I am not there everyday to serve my community. I can’t relate on the same level to volunteers that are still in country anymore… because I’m not there anymore. It’s hard to come to terms with that.
To join the Peace Corps I had to give up my entire life in the United States. I had to give up my friends, my lovers, my hometown, my entire life, to become something different. And yes, some people thought this decision was “selfish” and self-serving, but at the same time… it was so much more than that. I wanted something more from life. I received everything I wanted and more from my experience in Albania. I just wish people could understand how much I had to give up to come back home….