When I was in the fifth grade I remember a former Peace Corps volunteer coming to our class to speak about his work building playgrounds in some-place-I-didn’t-even-know-was-a-country after his college graduation.
Even as a playground-enthusiast I remember thinking to myself, “Why would you go volunteer after college when you can have a job that makes money?”
Clearly, I was a very charming child.
Little did charming-capitalist-10-year-old-Julie know that upon my college graduation I would turn down my nice full time job offer with Samsung to live in a hut in the jungles of El Salvador as an Economic Development volunteer with the Peace Corps.
Aside from crushing the dreams of 10-year-old Julie, this was a very difficult decision to make for three reasons.
1. Being a Peace Corps volunteer is incredibly difficult.
I have read that successful volunteers complete 10% of their projects. This means that 90% of projects are failures! And that is for the most successful volunteers in the program! That’s crazy!
Even though I will put all of my effort into leaving behind a more positive impact, sometimes I will have to accept that the strain and effort of putting in something as simple as a chalkboard in a school that has never had a chalkboard before is amazing-fantastic-wonderful. This will be very difficult for an overachiever like me to accept.
2. Becoming a part of an entirely new culture and providing services of value for that culture is incredibly difficult.
I am a 21-year-old woman who speaks Spanish at the third grade level and just graduated from an undergraduate business program. Do I really expect to be able to wave my hands and change all of the problems a community faces?
No! That’s crazy talk!
But will I do my best to serve my community? Absolutely.
3. I love my family, my friends, and California deeply and will miss all three incredibly.
Some days I will want to curl up in a ball and want to eat nothing but salmon sashimi and peanut butter crackers and speak to my friends in English.
On other days I will see my friends dancing around San Francisco, a city I feel so comfortable in and love so much, on my Facebook newsfeed and wish with all of my heart that I could be frolicking around Dolares Park with them.
One day I will probably find a scorpion in my hiking boots and run out of my room screaming and everyone will laugh at me (or, more likely, ignore me) and I will wonder why I put myself in this situation when I could be at my nephew Ben’s 4th birthday party playing duck-duck-goose in a nice air-conditioned home in San Jose.
So, basically, the only reason I would join Peace Corps is because I am bat shit crazy, right?
Probably… but there are other reasons I want to go to El Salvador too.
I figure that after college graduation is the time to take the risks to find the work you love.
I am excited that I will be working on the greater problems that humanity faces instead of working on something like the next mobile phone dating app. The world is facing big, big problems and we need to be generating solutions, not creating the next version of Snapchat.
I want to learn about development on the grassroots level.
I still want to travel and would love to see Guatemala and Honduras.
También, necesito mejorar mi Español. Quiero tener fluencia en una otra lengua.
Also, how crazy and exciting is it to try to immerse yourself in a small village in El Salvador? When else in your life can you do that?
Nothing about these next 27 months will be easy. But this stage in my life is not the time for “easy”; now is the time for learning, risk, and adventure.