Saturday, October 01, 2011

Peace Corps, Cambodia, and Moving on With My Life

Up on the Roof

I've just spent the better part of the past hour doing my laundry Cambodian-style. This involves buckets of soapy water, rinsing things out, moving them back and forth, squatting on the ground, killing your back, and then finally hanging them up on the line. The entire time I did this the sun was beating down on me, and the only happy thought I could come up with was that all that direct sun would help dry my clothes faster.
Naturally, now that I've pulled out my laptop, settled in on the rooftop terrace (also where the clothesline is) and started to relax, it is pouring rain. The kind of inexplicable rain where there are only 2 or 3 puffy clouds in the sky, the sun is still trying to burn me even though I'm sitting in the shade, and yet my clothes 10 feet away are getting drenched.
And yet, in spite of all this, right at this moment I'm living the dream. I'm sitting on a beautiful terrace in an exotic country, just me and my laptop. This is what we all dream about, isn't it? Blogging from foreign locales?
I'm both happy and sad to see my time in Cambodia come to an end so quickly. I've enjoyed the work I was given to do. And I am very grateful that Riverkids chose to work with my talents, rather than just stick me with the children. (There was a great deal of confusion when I first arrived. They thought I was here to teach English. When I had applied with Projects Abroad I made it abundantly clear I did NOT want to do that, hence the upsetting confusion those first few hours.) There would have been nothing wrong with caring for the children or teaching- and there are many volunteers here doing a great job of it. But there is something to be grateful and happy for knowing that you were able to use your best talents to help others. Did I imagine myself coming down here to write marketing plans for a shelter for sex workers? Nope. Pretty much the last thing I pictured! That wasn't what I had signed up for either, but I am very glad that is how things turned out.
I find that the real “trick” in traveling abroad, particularly when it comes to so-called intrepid travel, is to roll with the punches (deal with the traffic, roommates etc), accept things as they are (eat rice and then more rice), and make a difference when and where you can (and accept when you can't). But don't expect society and culture to change just for you.
It was good for me to get back into marketing again. For the few years all I have really known is that I wanted out of marketing as a career and into non-profit work via the Peace Corps. In other words, I wanted to make a difference, and stop marketing products I really didn't care about (ahem, cheap travel, dental x-ray machines, etc.) But being here has helped me see that I can use the talents I am the most familiar and best with to do the things I care the most about. And I think going forward that little lesson I have learned will be invaluable.
You see, I've been harboring a little secret for the past week. The Peace Corps and I may have be coming to an end in the next few weeks. This past week I was supposed to get the big final phone call telling me where I will be going. Instead, the phone call was a huge disappointment. More budget cuts, more program cuts, yada yada yada. I'm still accepted in the PC. But the program I was accepted for is shrinking rapidly. Optimistically, there is a small chance that within the next two weeks I will have that final placement, and have a departure date (which will happen no sooner than April). But? Realistically? Not going to happen. And if it doesn't happen by mid-October, they push me off again until February 2012, at which point ALL of my medical, dental, etc will have expired. I will have to re-do the entire freaking process, and then, in theory, they will not mess up my status again, and I will get a placement any time between June and Sept of next year. That is if they don't put a 3-6 month hold on my account again while re-clearing my medical.
So if it doesn't happen in the next 2 weeks, I'm dropping out. There, I've said it. And it feels good to just say it. I've been in this process for over a year. I never felt right about applying for other jobs, or accepting a full-time position somewhere knowing that I'd be leaving in just a few months. That wouldn't be fair to the company or other qualified job-seekers. But after a year without steady income, I just can't put my life on hold for the Peace Corps anymore. I'm a little too old for this. Way too old actually. I have to get back to a real job, real income, and a real future. I don't know what I will do to achieve my future goals without the Peace Corps, but I do think this is the right thing.
I do still want to join the Peace Corps, and maybe it will still happen in a few years from now. It is all I have thought about for the past 18 months. But I'm an adult with adult decisions and responsibilities to make. And while my career options seem limited to “paper or plastic” in this economy, it is time to get back to working on my future.
Until then, I have 4 days left in Cambodia. And I'm going to make the most of them. You never know how long it will be before another opportunity like this comes up. 


  1. Oh sweetie.. I'm sure that's a big disappointment... but I know you are making a wise decision.

    I've never seen anyone work so hard and so passionately while unemployed!
    The right employer is going be mightily impressed. I can feel it!

  2. Nicole aka BeatlesDiva12:36 AM

    I'm so sorry to hear this.

    You're a wonderful person, something great and wonderful is in your near future...I KNOW IT!

  3. I've been following your blog on and off because it comes up in my peace corps blog searches. I was delayed for 2 months because of the budget cuts yada yada but have a few friends in the same position of you. It's impossible to put your life on hold forever. Check out for peace-corps-like jobs without the peace-corps-like wait. Some even involve international travel! best of luck

  4. Anonymous11:47 PM

    I am a volunteer with the PC and I understand your frustration. Silly process, this getting ready to join the corps. PC isn't going to get any easier once you get that invitation however and although I love my service, my community and the doors that will open at the end of this yada, yada 27 month adventure, I have NEVER in my life gone through something so aggravating. PC is a bureaucratic organization and I wish I would have realized before joining that the hardest part was yet to come. I sympathize with you, I too am an older volunteer and it took over 19 months to get an invite. It is hard enough to put life on hold for 27 months but adding on another 19...I almost didn't make it. I do want to give some encouragement. If this is your dream then make it happen. Before you drop out call your placement officer and know that you did all you could. PC is great but there are other great organizations out there. Many volunteers who came in with me have left PC and accepted jobs with other NGOs. Don't go back to marketing back home...go, explore but know that if you stick it out with PC it is something that I have never regretted. love from a PCV in the Dominican Republic

  5. Anonymous3:17 AM

    Sorry to read what you had to write. However, your attitude that Peace Corps is not a real job is one that would not be good for you were you to serve in PC. What do you mean, a real job and real future? Do you think those of us who are working as PCVs in other countries are not working in real jobs, and have no real futures? Time for a little perspective on your part. We deal, on a daily basis, with language differences, cross-cultural differences, a full-time job, housing that is not U.S. standard, and all of the other stresses that come with the job. It IS real, and we have real futures.

    In addition, one year is not a long time to take to get through the process - I am currently serving with people who took TWO years to get through the process - it depends on how much you really want to be a Peace Corps Volunteer.

    As to the other Anonymous - you do NOT put your life on hold to serve in Peace Corps, and I am sorry that, as a PCV, you have that attitude. I am curious how "old" you are as you say you are an "older" volunteer. As a mid-career volunteer, I was able to go through the application, nomination, and selection process with a much different perspective than those who are right out of college.

    I am sorry, but your post sounds like the ranting of a spoiled, immature little girl. Perhaps PC is not right for you after all, because it takes a great deal of strength to go through this experience and not complain about it constantly.

  6. I have to say that over the past 6 months I've had a lot of very comments from both RPCVs and current PCVs, and it tends to be the current PCVs that make me not want to serve. Why? Their holier than thou attitudes! "Anonymous" you are the perfect example of that.
    I think to everyone who doesn't have their head up their butt it is obvious that when I said, "real job" I meant one that comes with a paycheck and a retirement fund.
    I am nearly 37 years old. And yes, my life has been put on hold for over 1 year now as the Peace Corps has repeatedly postponed me over and over again. When I signed up I was told I could easily be leaving within 6-8 months. We're now 14 months into this, and I'm being told I may not even leave for another 12 months.
    What I have learned is that I don't have to do the Peace Corps to achieve the same goals. (Ahem, I am writing this while sitting in an orphanage in Cambodia working with an NGO. They were able to get me placed and working within 3 weeks, as compared to the eternal PC system.)
    If working and living in developing countries as a part-time hobby is what you consider a spoiled, immature little girl, I'd really rather not join ranks with your selfish, holier than thou type.
    By the way, I haven't been complaining. I've been letting out one long, disappointed sigh. I've wanted nothing more than to join the PC for a very long time. But given all of the cutbacks and disappointments, I feel that for me personally it is no longer the best situation. Are you really so self-absorbed that you can't understand that??

  7. Anonymous1:52 AM

    Erinannie- This is the other anonymous and don't worry that other woman is a rare piece of work. Almost all of my fellow PCVs are great people who also let out occasional sighs. ;) This is a hard process and an occasionally frustrating adventure. Venting helps us all. Well apparently for some picking on people and making them feel worse instead of better is their stress relief. Again I would like to say that I love my community, my projects and overall my experience in the Corps.

    To the other anonymous I am so glad I am not serving with you and really feel for your other volunteers. I doubt you have many friends in the Corps and am sure that must be a struggle. There is a reason that Peace Corps is called the hardest job you will ever love. Good luck to you however and I hope that during your service you can develop a sliver of empathy for others. That is my hope for you.

    Good luck Erin and don't let the haters get you down. <3 a volunteer from the Caribbean


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