Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Facing Reality

Some slightly more serious ponderings on the one-year mark of life in PC.

Before I came to Peace Corps, I was a dreamer. No, I was a big dreamer. My list of potential careers were: Oscar-winning actress, first person on Mars, secretary general to the UN, and world-renowned classical pianist. As I moved more and more towards social justice as a career path, my dream shifted to: change the world. I noticed this change mostly when the ultimate award I wanted to receive switched from Oscar for best actress to the Nobel Peace Prize. Did I mention yet that I dream big?

I blame these notions of grandeur on something in my upbringing. I’m not sure what exactly it was, but at a young age, I was instilled with the belief that I am limitless. Anything I set my mind to, I can accomplish, and God help you if you get in my way. I still believe this, although to a lesser degree now that I’ve been in PC for a year. I’m forced to face reality, and in reality, I can’t single-handedly save the world. Kalofai (that’s too bad).

Having grown up with an ego accustomed to getting whatever it wants, this was a very hard reality for me to accept. Always expecting success, and almost always getting success, it is hard to meet with anything less than success. I’ve come to realize that when I visualize myself working on projects, I see the project in its final form. I see the library fully constructed, packed with kids reading fluently and using computers. I see new attitudes towards school, with all students (and teachers) in attendance every day, with some degree of passion for learning. I see everything improved. But that’s not what happens at the beginning of the project. The beginning of the project must necessarily start with small steps. Successes, if they happen at all, are minimal. Failures abound, and projects must be regularly rethought and constantly pursued. If you let up to catch your breath for even a second, you sometimes lose the momentum needed to carry you through to the next step.

All in all, my first year in PC feels like a failure. But again, I think the feeling of failure marks the life of a PCV. PCVs come from the breed of people who dream big, who have ridiculous expectations, and who want to save the world, so anything that falls short of that feels like a failure. 

It’s hard to accept that I won’t be making the life-changing differences I first imagined. I won’t shatter anybody’s world, I won’t move mountains, and I probably won’t even really move grains of sand on the beach. For those of you interested in becoming a PCV, this is the reality of PC. You try, and try, and try, sometimes you try harder, sometimes you hardly try at all, and most of the time, you see nothing different. It makes me disappointed to think that the most I can hope for is to impact the life of one person while I am here, and it will probably be an impact that I won’t see while I am here. I got an e-card for my birthday that said, “To the world, you may be just one person, but to one person, you may be the world,” and I don’t want to accept that I may just be one person. Aren’t I destined for great things? Aren’t we all?

My new guiding truth is “development is a process, not a project.” I can’t save the world by teaching English for 2 years in a rural primary school. So much more needs to change, and that is where my next guiding truth comes in. At my high school, seniors could submit a quote they wanted printed alongside their picture in the yearbook. The quote I submitted (and somehow got lost and wasn’t printed) was “Nobody makes a bigger mistake than he who does nothing because he can only do little.” I try to remember this because in all honesty, I can only do little. My little contribution – everybody’s little contribution – is what will eventually add up to a monumental shift.

That being said, I feel that I personally have achieved light years of improvement. I spent my entire first two terms convinced that I couldn’t teach, and now, sometimes, I think I have pretty OK lessons. Don’t quote me on this, because I swear that come term 1 next year I will absolutely deny it, but I’m even kind of looking forward to next year and working with students in the new setting of a new grade in school. I would have told you before PC that I had infinite patience, but now that infinite patience has at least doubled. I am learning to be flexible, I am learning to let things go, and I am learning that sometimes the most you can do is just get through the day. I am constantly striving for balance, which never actually seems possible in PC, but I feel like I am more aware of life, and I try to make a more concerted effort to live each day the way I want to. I can even remind myself (sometimes) to not get too frustrated with my students because they’re just kids. Ya, it sucks when they act up, or don’t do their homework, or fight with each other, but address it and move on. The best I can do as a teacher here is provide a supportive and encouraging learning environment because most students don’t get that. My goals have changed, my project visions have changed, and my definition of success is slightly lower than it used to be. That’s the way it has to work if you are going to survive anything. You have to adapt, reflect, try and try and try, and take a break when you need it. You’ll get through, and hopefully you’ll get better.

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