Peace Corps in Peru
In today's job market it seems as if there is not much for a 22 year old with a religious studies degree to do in the states. I am no exception; my name is Katie Campbell-Morrison, a Cleveland native who is currently serving in the Peace Corps in Cusicancha, a village in Huancavelica, Peru.
Katie with a new friend
When I reached my junior year of college I realized that eventually I would have to find a job but unless I wanted to go into investment banking there was little to no options. I knew that I wanted to do something where I was working to fulfill my social conscious and so I decided to look into government programs such as Teach for America, City Year and Peace Corps.
I started applications to multiple things but quickly realized that Peace Corps was my number one when I forgot to do essential parts of other applications in order to complete the Peace Corps application. Peace Corps probably showed through as my number one because of the level of commitment and the role it played such a great part of my childhood.
The Peace Corps first came into my purview as a little girl. My childhood was filled with tales of my father's time in Nairobi, Kenya and how it transformed his life. He got a chance to shed his past in order to become the man he is today, one I would like to say with a finely tuned sense of the world. Since he helped to encourage me to major in religious studies, probably the most unmarketable major, I figured he would support my decision to apply.
Now the stories I heard about the Peace Corps were mostly from the 1960s and early 1970s, a completely different Peace Corps era. For all intents and purposes, my aunt Cathy walked into the office and signed. Then was shipped off to training in Puerto Rico and then dropped in Panama with a horse.
My father had a fairly similar application process where the majority of what he had to do was take the first step and go into the office to sign up. My mother on the other hand was rejected. The Peace Corps told her that her history major provided no tangible skills for the Peace Corps. She later used her useless skills to serve as the Mayor of Cleveland.
So the day I received my invitation, the first step in the acceptance process, was the first time that I thought my mom wanted to live vicariously though me. Of all things to live vicariously through your child with I would say the Peace Corps is not a bad option. Doesn't cause any psychological damage in the future.
So long story short, nowadays the application process is much more difficult than just going in and signing up, you really have to want it. If any of you are thinking of applying for the Peace Corps let me tell you one of the hardest parts is sticking through the application process. They defintely make sure that you actually willing to accept the possibility of living in a developing country for 2 years.
Today you have to give basically your life and medical history, from jobs to work to friends. It is an intense process but then again the Peace Corps itself is fairly intense.
Just to give you a glimpse into the life of a Peace Crops volunteer, the Peace Crops' favorite sayings are "it's the hardest job you will ever love" and "never trust a fart." Basically these break down into the emotional extremes a volunteer will encounter during service and the complete lack of modesty that will accompany it.
I am currently settling into my village, rather nicely I might add. 2011 was the first year that Peace Corps has sent volunteers to Huancavelica so I literally had no idea what I was getting myself into.
I had my expectations set abysmally low. Fortunately I was met with stunning lofty yellow and green mountains with a rocky fresh water river and about 80 adobe and brick houses. Everyone knows everyone and knows just about everything about everyone else. Gossip about the 5 Peace Crops volunteers in Huancavelica spread like wildfire up the one road. The most insignificant things such as a search for a candy bar can reach the ears of another volunteer 3 villages away without cell service or Internet.
I feel like I am getting in touch with my early childhood. A time before cell phones and Internet, a time when if you said you were going to be back in 2 hours people just had to trust you because they had no way to double check your whereabouts. At times it is freeing to not be bound to a Blackberry or constantly in contact; at others it's downright unnerving.
I am mildly accustomed to not having a cell phone because about 50% of the time I "have" one in the states it's broken or lost, but I have yet to come around to the fact that my daily news does not include many international affairs. Expect for the fact that Ohio State University discovered that men only think about sex 12-18 times a day. Riveting new stories.
Besides adjusting to my new communication norms I am also adjusting to the constant struggle of communicating in a different language. Some moments I feel like I am basically fluent, others I stare off into space, or just start speaking English because I am completely lost.
I have been getting to know my village this past week and a half. So far everyone seems very amicable, enthusiastic and willing to help me acclimate. The only tangible projects that I have accomplished to date are teaching for a couple hours a day at the primary school and pre-school.
It's a little terrifying to try to teach students in a foreign language but it seems that no matter how much I feel like I fail they still appreciate my presence. Which helps to get me through my first holiday season away from home. Hopefully soon enough I will be able to undertake the real projects such as cocinas mejoradas, latrines, and rural health promotion.
So far I believe that Peace Corps was one of the best decisions of my life. I know it will be hard, especially this first Christmas. But I have my fellow volunteers, my newfound Peruvian friends and about 82 Christmas songs to comfort me.
The one thing that the Peace Corps is not short on is challenges but so far some of my greatest challenges have been climbing up mountains.
Often times literally on my hands and knees, struggling to breath in the altitude and taking breaks precariously close to cow poop and not being able to formulate sentences smarter than a first grader. Poco a poco, little by little.
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