According to Wikipedia (my favorite source), the official name of Ecuador literally translates to ‘The Republic of Equator.’ It seems like a funny name for a country when you translate it to English. I’ll stick to calling it Ecuador.
Throughout the last year I’ve been asked the question every soon-to-be/recent college grad gets probably 1.2 trillion times, ‘What are you doing with your life after graduation?’ My answer has been a somewhat steady ‘I’m applying for the Peace Corps.’ Until about 2 weeks ago I had to no answer to the follow-up question, ‘So where are you going?’ Most people seemed surprised when I would explain that I’d been in the process for months upon months with no indication as to where I might spend 2 years of my life. My nomination, which I was given shortly after my interview last November, was for the South Pacific. I researched and researched, reading as many blogs and articles as I could about the little-known region. It never was my first choice but the idea grew on me the more I found. Based on my potential departure date of October 2011, the oh so useful Peace Corps Wiki told me my new home would be Samoa or Tonga. Beach fales, palm trees, and learning a Polynesian language didn’t seem so bad.
In Korea, I finally got an e-mail from the Peace Corps. They wanted to schedule my final placement phone interview. I explained that I was out of the country but would be happy to set something up since my nomination was so close (this was mid-August). I got a prompt response saying my phone interview could wait until I was back in the States. Due to budget cuts, the South Pacific program had been cancelled and I was being considered for programs leaving in January. Coconut cream and puletasis weren’t in my future after all.
I scheduled the phone interview for August 30 and waited anxiously for the day to arrive. My phone rang about 12:30pm and the lady on the other end introduced herself as my Placement Officer (PO). I don’t remember much of the phone interview other than a few questions that stuck out. ‘Are you ok living with a host family for your entire service?’ ‘How would you work with a co-teacher for 2 years? ‘Are you comfortable removing your nose piercing? and finally, ‘How open are you in terms of geographic placement?’ My response was something like, ‘I would love a Spanish-speaking country simply because I have a Spanish background, but I am open to any location the Peace Corps thinks my skills would be beneficial.’ Good answer, right? The next thing she said was, ‘Great, the program I’m actually considering you for is in Central/South America leaving in mid-January. You should be receiving a more detailed formal invitation in the mail soon.’ My heart quite possibly stopped for a few seconds.
After more searching, I narrowed my possible future homes to Panama, Nicaragua, or Ecuador. I hoped and hoped for Ecuador. My friend throughout all my crazy Peace Studies and Spanish classes at Mizzou left for the Peace Corps in Ecuador in June. I remember thinking how crazy it would be if we actually ended up in the same country. The odds of that happening seemed beyond impossible in absolutely every way.
10 days passed and nothing. I went to Fort Worth the week before the wedding and was convinced my very important paperwork would arrive while I was gone and Andrea would be the one to open it and tell me of my fate. I called her everyday hoping for some news. Nothing.
The Monday after the wedding I called the Peace Corps saying it had been over 2 weeks and I still hadn’t received my invitation. My PO sent me the UPS tracking number so I could find the package on my own. I don’t know why they don’t send you the tracking number in the first place. I’m sure it would cut down on lots of phone calls they get from antsy applicants. I found my tracking info online and was not happy with what I saw. The PO had forgotten the apartment number on the package and it was in transit back to Washington from Texas. I called UPS and was told there was no way for me to re-route it back to College Station. This is Monday and I’m moving to Chicago on Friday. I e-mailed the PO and explained my upcoming change of address and asked if she could send a brand new invitation ASAP. She replied saying it would arrive Thursday.
Thursday comes and no package. The UPS guy delivered something downstairs and after running down to make sure it wasn’t mine, I seriously considered running after his truck to see if he had somehow missed one. I didn’t. I was convinced I would have to wait another 4-5 days for my package to arrive and Andrea to express mail it to me in Chicago. Randomly, I got a phone call from a local area code. I picked it up and the UPS guy said he had a package for me but it was missing an apartment number (she forgot it AGAIN??!!?). He asked me for it and said it would be delivered Friday afternoon. Small problem, we were leaving at 12:30 for the airport in Houston. I said I would pick it up at the UPS distribution center in the morning.
Friday morning, 30 days after my final interview and 364 days after I first submitted my Peace Corps application (check out The Long and Winding Road), I drove to no-man’s land College Station to retrieve my Big Blue Envelope (BBE as others like to call it). I sat in the passenger’s seat while Andrea took pictures and Bridget listened on speaker phone as I opened it.
Ecuador. Secondary English Education. Departing January 18, 2012.
Queue screams, tears, and ‘oh my gods.’
I still CANNOT believe how lucky I’ve been with this whole thing. Teaching English in South America is what I’ve always hoped the Peace Corps would allow me to do. Obviously, there are easier and less time consuming routes to do such a thing but I’ve always been attracted to the thought of the whole Peace Corps experience. I’ve always known that I wanted that experience above all else. The fact that I’m going to the region I always hoped for and I know someone there?! How often do Peace Corps applicants go to their desired region? Rarely. How often do they know a volunteer currently serving in their assigned country? My guess is probably never.
A friend recently told me she didn’t want me to go because it scared her. She asked if I’d even done any research on the Peace Corps. The idea once scared me too. What are people to think when all they know about the Peace Corps is based on a 60 Minutes interview of former Peace Corps Volunteers and rape victims? It is a scary thing to willingly go into a country where women aren’t as respected, where you’re the minority, where your hair color makes you stand out in a crowd of hundreds. The truth is there are many more stories beyond the unfortunate tragic ones. I don’t claim to know or understand much about the Peace Corps. How can you really know about something until you’ve experienced it? I can say that I feel comfortable with my decision based on the amount of research I’ve done. I’ve read literally hundreds of past and current Peace Corps Volunteers’ (PCVs) blogs on a little site called Peace Corps Journals that, unless you’re a Peace Corps applicant like me and stalk it daily, the average person wouldn’t know exists. I’ve read articles and talked to Returned PCVs (RPCVs). I’ve had a whole year of contemplating, seriously questioning, and generally stewing about my decision to join the Peace Corps.
Maybe its my naïveté, my idealism, or my insanity (I readily admit to all of these) but I don’t want to be 40 with 3 kids and a lawn having to say ‘Damn, I wish I’d done the Peace Corps.”