Friday, February 11, 2005

When You Aspire, You Make an Ass Out of...

... You and Pire?

Just a little joke.

Anyway, as of Thursday the 10th all of my Invitation Packet requirements are complete. Hooray! In all, this meant I needed to fill out the passport application and send that in, along with my current passport. The Peace Corps will then provide me with a "no-fee," non-diplomatic passport to use while I'm in service. The pictures they took of me at the Post Office? Bloody awful. Like usual. And I paid ten dang bucks for that... ten bucks to look like crap to every foreign national to stamp my passport for the next two years. Alas.

Also I had to revamp my resumé to a specific format. The Peace Corps doesn't just want you to send them the same damn thing they got during the application, they want it to be formatted in a certain way for the trainers to use in order to assess your abilities. Fine. So I did that, and then I also had to write an Aspiration Statement. They ask three questions and you have to address these questions to the best of your ability, even when the answers seem like total enigmas. I have no idea what to expect for the next two years, because I've seen you should expect the unexpected. Instead, I talked a little about the expectations I've put upon myself, right or wrong.

I'm including the whole Aspiration Statement below. This shoudn't violate Peace Corps policy, since it is something I wrote, doesn't reveal any sensitive material, and I'm not getting paid for it.

Aspiration Statement
Brian Reeves
May 31, 2005

As a former volunteer (Eastern Caribbean #65), it is hard for me to assert my expectations. I remember very well what it was like to go into the program with a set of expectations and find I was wrong on many of them. Given that, however, there are certain things I look forward to with my project and assignment.

I hope to be assigned to a college or university or other institution that can use my higher degree and previous college experience. I have been a teacher at the community college level now for several years and feel I have pretty strong credentials. My strength has always been in encouraging students how to explore their ideas and this is the part of my job I enjoy the most. I am intrigued to discover what is meant by “community-based education,” and hope my talents and training will suffice for what I’m called to do.

I am smart enough to know I shouldn’t have expectations about my area or living conditions. From what I understand, Guyana is much like other Caribbean countries, and I look forward to everything that entails. At the time of my prior service, I was not accustomed to the lifestyle of the Caribbean and so, like most other volunteers, had to deal with many realities of life there (food, public transportation, lack of reliable services, etc.). But in the meantime I have grown a fondness for local customs and ways and look forward to experiencing them again, with Guyana’s distinct variations, of course. I feel I have a better sense of what to expect from service, while at the same time understanding that expectations are doomed to be subverted.

Strategies for Adapting to a New Culture:
The best thing, I find, is to avoid preconceptions and to look for positives. Many people focus on what is missing or is wrong or is different about another way of life, and clinging to such a culture-centric viewpoint will inevitably lead to pessimism and unhappiness. It can be hard enough to be submerged in another culture without undermining one’s self with negativity. What I find is that every culture worldwide has aspects that are shared, even if it is hard to initially see them. I try to look for the positives and avoid accentuating the things I don’t like.

It also helps to let the culture be what it is, not what you want it to be. This is how I eventually came to love Hawai`i, which is where I now consider my true home. When I first moved there, in my early 20s, I couldn’t stand it. It was hot, the people were weird, they spoke a confusing pidgin, people didn’t like me for my race, and the local economy made it tough to survive. The problem was I went in expecting Hawai`i would be the magical “paradise” of the travel brochures, a place where every day was easy and simple, the weather was constantly perfect, and -- most importantly -- I would be happy without much effort. Perhaps I was uncommonly naïve for a 23-year-old, but this is what I expected. When my expectations were dashed, I was disappointed and returned to the mainland. Later on, though, I began to look more realistically at the situation and I realized I was trying to make the place match my preconceptions. With this realization I decided to learn about Hawai`i as it really is, not what I wanted it to be, and through that I came to absolutely love the place. Now to me there is no place in the world that compares, and I feel like I truly belong there. It’s not that I ignore the bad aspects, but I accept them as facets of Hawai`i, part of what makes it a unique place, and love it the more for that.

I hope to take some of that into my service in Guyana. The previous question asks about expectations, but the truth of the matter is I’m trying to not have any. I think I know a little about what Guyana is like, based on what I know of St. Lucia, Dominica, and Jamaica, but I don’t know for sure and I’m not basing any of my hopes off that.

Personal and Professional Goals:
I have many more personal goals than professional goals that I hope to achieve through Peace Corps service. Volunteers who join the Peace Corps solely to pad their resumés seem, to me, “mercenary” in their attitudes and open for disappointment. Anyway, I feel like I have personal goals that would outweigh any professional ones in any case. As I mentioned previously in this statement, I was a former volunteer in 1998. One month into my service I chose to Early Terminate. This decision came from a relationship I was attempting to sustain back in the states, and pretty quickly into service I came to the realization that I could have either the Peace Corps or my marriage, but not both. Suffering from the same stresses as any other trainee, and feeling like losing my fiancé would be a horrible thing, I decided to end my service.

Since then, I have regretted this decision immensely. The unceremonious ending of my marriage only served to dig this thorn a little deeper into my side -- was it the right decision? How could things have been different? Could I ever try again? Last year I decided to look into reapplying and I began the process that has led me here, to Guyana. I’m very pleased and think I’m lucky to get the assignment I have; actually, I’m grateful to the Peace Corps for risking another shot at me.

So, my personal goals have to do largely with getting another chance at the growth and adventure that comes with Peace Corps service. I’m quite sure I’ll come out of service more confident in my skills and with a greater appreciation for life in other parts of the world. I can’t think of anything I’d rather be doing with my life right now than experiencing whatever the Peace Corps has to offer, from the hardships to the victories, the struggles to the lasting friendships.

Professionally, I know that having the Peace Corps on my resumé can only help bolster my academic credentials, adding to my caché when applying to jobs. I plan from here to move back to Hawai`i and get a job either in the publishing or academic fields. Hopefully finally being able to proudly put my service on my Curriculum Vita will be one of my greatest accomplishments.

Not my best work, but that's what I could come up with. I peeked at what other people wrote for their Aspiration Statements, but most of it seemed like the same regurgitated crap, like "I want to learn more about myself," or "I expect to come away with a greater appreciation for the good things about America." Maybe these are true, and maybe they're honest statements, but they're said often enough that I wanted to say something a little more original and personal. One volunteer, by the way, wrote as her Expectation: "I expect the people who I come into contact with in Bulgaria to be blessed and touched by my servitude, my selfless perseverance, and my character."

Aaaaaalrighty then....

1 comment: said...

I think your aspiration statement is beautiful. I am no writer, so I can only hope mine sounds as nice. I have put my thoughts down, so I just need to build from there...