My Next [27-Month] Adventure

This is news for some, and not news for others, but here it goes:

I’m joining the Peace Corps!

This has been the craziest journey. Those who are close to me know just how long and arduous the application process has been this past year. This is not my first, but my second time applying to Peace Corps. When I first applied last February, it was a last-minute vie for the Education sector in Samoa, but unsurprisingly, I was too late, and placed into consideration for an English Language Teacher and Teacher Trainer position in Indonesia instead. I interviewed and got the job – but failed at completing my medical clearances on time due to the hectic nature of my job in AmeriCorps.

I then began questioning if the Peace Corps was even right for me, essentially having a career crisis, and spent the next few months debating on if it was what I really wanted, despite it being a dream of mine for years.

After looking at other jobs, I realized that there’s nothing else I want to do more than the Peace Corps, so I applied for the second time in August for the Community Development sector in Kosovo. I was told – once again – that my application was going to be considered for another position as a Rural Aquaculture Agent in Zambia. This one made me pause. A fish farmer??? Of all the things I thought I would be doing in Peace Corps, fish farming was at the bottom of the list. I didn’t even know it was a position. And to be honest, I was hesitant about it.

Luckily, one of my friends knew someone who is currently in the same program, so I contacted her directly. I shared all of my worries and anxieties with her, I asked her every question I could think of, and she gave me the most in-depth, honest answers I could have hoped for. They excited me. They intrigued me. Which is why, ultimately, my desire to serve won out my aversion to fish and all things fishy, so I interviewed, I got offered the position, and I accepted my invitation this past September.

The Agriculture Extension Agent-Rural Aquaculture Promotion (RAP) program is interesting because you get to dip your toes in many different areas. You get to teach fish farmers how to build and maintain fish ponds and work alongside them to create them; you look for ways to enhance the fish pond integration by combining it with gardening, animal husbandry, agro-forestry, etc; you can help farmers with their business skills through planning, record keeping, and marketing; you can teach your community how to improve nutrition by using more food groups and meals that include fish. And that’s just the beginning.

So finally – YES, FINALLY – I can say that it’s official.

It’s official. After months of medical (SO. MUCH. MEDICAL) and legal clearances and required paperwork and the intense financial and emotional stress that came along with it all, my dream of serving with Peace Corps is now a reality. (And that is the best Christmas present I could have ever asked for.)

Peace Corps has been a dream of mine for so long that saying those words doesn’t even feel real. Looking in the mirror and telling myself: “You’re in the Peace Corps” doesn’t feel real. When I got invited the first time I applied, the same day as my interview, I started crying. I couldn’t speak because I didn’t know what to say. What even is there to say when something you’ve been working towards and dreaming of for so long finally comes to fruition? The second time I got invited, I almost couldn’t catch my breath. It’s like you’ve been training for a marathon, barely stopping to take a drink of water, and suddenly it’s the day of the race. You didn’t notice the days passing by, you were too focused on training, but it’s here and now the race is beginning. You’re here.

What do you do now? You run like hell, and you finish the race.

A lot of people have asked me why I would even want to serve in Peace Corps. It’s incomprehensible. It’s strange. And for some, like my family, it’s a scary thought. Who in their right mind would ever want to pack up, leave home, and live in another country for 27 months?

Me, apparently. As well as the hundreds of thousands of other Volunteers who have served (or are currently serving). I know 3 people personally who, like me, will soon be or are already PCVs. I know even more who have considered it or are still considering it. And we all have that same instinct inside that drives us to apply in the first place: To serve others. To make other people’s lives better. To gain cultural competency. To broaden our worldview. To broaden others’ world views. To empower others. To empower ourselves. To challenge and improve ourselves. To promote peace and understanding between us all. I don’t see that as crazy, do you?

What’s crazy is to think that almost two years ago I was a completely different person. I graduated college with starry-eyes and little direction. I could have never dreamed of achieving the level of growth that I have. I became a Team Leader for AmeriCorps NCCC, where I learned to challenge myself and others on both a professional and personal scale; I learned the importance of flexibility and compromise; I gained valuable life skills, hard skills, and soft skills that I will carry with me for the rest of my life; and I met the most incredible cohort of human beings and established life-long relationships. When I came home, I realized that in order for me to continue to grow as an individual, I can’t stay here. I realized that I am my best self when I am outside of my comfort zone. I realized that I am my worst self when I am at home. And I realized that my true passion really does lie in the realm of service. I realized that I’m heading down the right path.

In short, I’ve grown up.

I can’t tell you what these 27 months will bring, whether the days will be mostly good or bad, but I can tell you that I know each day will only shape me further into the person I’m meant to be. I’m going in with high hopes and low expectations – I’m not entirely naive. I know that it will be hard. I know there will be days, maybe weeks, where I want to quit and go home. I know that I’ll struggle emotionally, psychologically, physically, socially, and financially. I’ve prepared myself for these things. And yet I still get questions asking:

“What if it isn’t what you imagined it would be?”

“What if everything goes wrong?”

“What if you end up hating it?”

There’s always going to be “What ifs” circling around new opportunities. My philosophy in life is to embrace the uncertainty. What if it isn’t what you imagined it would be? What if it’s so much better? What if everything goes wrong? What if the bad days bring me opportunity for growth? What if I end up hating it? What if I end up loving it?

I can’t control the way things turn out, but I can try to control the way I react. If I spent my days lost in my head and poring over the thousands of possible negative outcomes (like I tend to), I would never be where I am today. I’m working on it. I’ve learned to trust the world and roll with the punches. I trust the Peace Corps staff and their decision to place me in this program. And I trust that I’m going to learn so many new things, make a [small] tangible change and be changed in the process, and leave Zambia holding onto a million memories, carrying a full heart.

I’ll be a completely new person.

Of course I’m scared. I think change, in any capacity, scares the shit out of human beings. What matters most is how we choose to confront that fear. Do we avoid it, pretend it doesn’t exist? Or do we face it head-on and hug it close to us? Fear is the most natural thing in the world. The most important lesson I’ve learned thus far is to seize the opportunities that scare you, as they often lead to the most growth.

If life grants you an opportunity, and the thought of jumping on that opportunity frightens you, I say take it. You’ll never grow more as a human being than by doing something outside of your comfort zone. And for me, packing up and moving 8,019 miles away to Zambia for 27 months as a Rural Aquaculture Promotion (RAP) volunteer is about as far outside of my comfort zone I can get. It’s terrifying. It’s thrilling. It’s humbling.

And after having months to mull it over – I can’t wait to get started on this project. Who knows? Maybe I was meant to end up right here. Maybe all of the trials and errors have been leading up to this point. Who knows. Also (pun alert), I can now say that I’m a RAP-per! Dreams really do come true.

Plus, nothing is ever as scary as it may seem.

I’ve been keeping a countdown for months now, and can now say that I am 75 days away from departing.

March 8th can’t come fast enough. See you soon, Zambia.

**I will continue this blog during my time in Zambia, but due to rules relating to social media in Peace Corps, I will also be sending out weekly (hopefully?) emails to friends and family who want the full scoop. If you would like to be apart of this, let me know & send me your email!**

2 thoughts on “My Next [27-Month] Adventure

  1. Ashley!!! I absolutely loved this post and am so flipping excited for you ♡♡♡ In all honestly I didn’t know the depth of your peace corps dream so this was eye opening. Also, after your explanation the fish farmer position looks sp much cooler than I had imagined at first and a surprisingly awesome fit for you, I cannot wait to hear how you change, educate, influence, inspire, adapt to and become part of the community in which you’re placed! Congratulations again and again, your growth and determination is a beautiful thing 😊☺🙃

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Stephanie 😊 Yeah, the more I learned about the position the more incredible it seemed, so I’m forever grateful that I took that leap of faith. I can’t wait to go over there and share my experiences!!

      Like

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