Photo: European Commission DG ECHO
1. You’re going to save the world.
Let’s just get this one out of the way early. We know your philanthropic heart has the best of intentions and there is no doubt you will do some amazing things and deeply affect the lives of the individuals where you serve — but you are no messiah.
When it’s all over, you’ll wonder whether or not your community would be much different if you hadn’t showed up at all. This is a scary thought — realizing we can’t single handedly rid the world of pestilence, poverty, and corruption. Coming to terms with this reality and doing all you can with what you’re given — that’s what you need to do to make this experience a rewarding one.
2. You will become fluent in a foreign language and use it forever and ever.
Languages are hard. No matter how many little flash cards you make or how many times you invite yourself over to your neighbor Dorj’s yurt for a chat session, two years isn’t enough time to become fluent. Even when you become an advanced speaker, there are going to be days when you’re sitting on Dorj’s couch spaced out and twiddling your thumbs because you have no clue what is going on in the livestock-themed conversation everyone is having around you.
When all is said and done, it’ll be awesome that you learned Mongolian, or that super rare dialect of Thai they only speak in the northern highlands, but back home it’s going to be more novel than practical. You’ll be speaking it to yourself just as a reminder of what it sounds like.
3. Everyone in your host country will love you.
It’s safe to say some will hate you. Like irrational, ignorant, yell-in-your-face, hate. Not everyone will know the self sacrifice you’ve made or that warm charity in your heart. You’ll be singled out time and time again, merely for just being an outsider. You’ll be ripped off at local markets, challenged to drunken brawls, and discriminated against on the regular.
During times like those, stay close to the friends you’ve already made and the people who are striving to understand you. That’s what will make putting up with the haters worth it.
4. All of your at home friendships and relationships will stay the same.
As much as it will feel like you’re stuck in some foreign time warp, you’re not. People back home will march through their own lives while you’re away. Friends will go on to graduate school, move away for work, get married, have kids. Just like your experience abroad will grow and change you, their lives will continue to develop and change them. Don’t expect to come home and chum it up at the same old bar in your same old town just like the days of yore.
You may always be friends, but things will never be how they were. And even if they are, then chances are you won’t be sticking around much longer again, anyways.
5. You will remain strong.
No. No, you won’t.
It doesn’t matter what kind of stoic unemotional robot you were before, eventually you’re going to crack. You’ll pull your hair out when no one shows up for that community meeting it took months to plan. You will grit your teeth in anger when that goat chews through your home’s power line for the third time in one night. You’ll throw an All-American temper tantrum when your ride accidentally leaves you stranded three towns over. And you will absolutely cry like the emotional blubbering wreck that you are when it’s finally time for you to go home, and your entire community comes together to show you how much they appreciated and loved you all along.
6. Everyone back home will care about your service.
Of course your friends and family will be proud. They’ll brag about what you’re doing and where you’re living, but they’ll never fully grasp the gravity of it all — the connections you’re going to make, the things you’re going to see, and the hardships you’re going to endure.
After about a week of being home, after you’ve caught up with all those people you left behind, that thing you did in that country far away will be old news. Try not to get too offended when you start a story with, “This one time, in the Peace Corps…,” and you get nothing but eye rolls. Keep your friends from service close, save it for them, no one will quite understand your story like they will.
7. You’ll be the same person when you get back.
You can entertain this illusion. Maybe you liked that job you left. Maybe you loved that thing you studied. Maybe you’ll go back to it all once your service is all over.
Whatever you decide it’s a safe bet to say that you’re going to view the world completely differently after service. You’ll be humbled and revitalized — the things you found exciting before will seem mundane when you return. Try as you might, you’re going to be a different person, and those two years of service are going to be a big part of the person you will become. You’ll have a new sense of ambition.
Go ahead and embrace it. Run from the monotonous and the routine. Chase your next adventure and your next life-changing experience.