Top 10 lessons I learned as a Peace Corps Volunteer

“How wonderful that no one need wait a single moment to improve the world.” Anne Frank

(Today’s Guest Post is by one my best friends from high school Charley Silverman.)

What I learned as a Peace Corps Volunteer

1. To know your world, you have to see it- All too often we find ourselves constrained by what is immediately in front of our faces. The same breakfast cereal, the same job, the same routine television schedules, the same life. While there can be great comfort in routine, there is a whole big world out there, and unfortunately it is not just outside your window or through your T.V. screen. Earth is blessed with a multitude of peoples, cultures, landscapes, languages and things to see and do. Whether you take on a life changing commitment such as the Peace Corps, or just take an extended vacation, make sure you go someplace new and different. Open your mind and your eyes to the different facets of the world, and your life will be richly rewarded in direct proportion to how much you are trying to experience.

2. Keep perspective on your purpose- While my “job title” in Morocco was as a Youth Development Volunteer, I was so much more. As an American in an Arab country in the post 9/11 world, I was responsible for the image I projected, as much as all of the work I did. I felt my most important job was to be a cultural ambassador. All my actions were a reflection on myself, my family, my home town and state and America and Americans at large. Whatever my politics are or were, it was important to be a smiling face, a listening ear, and a receptive person in order to transcend stereotypes which exist. Remember, no matter what your work is, your attitude and quality of work reflect you as a person, as well as what you stand for. An invaluable lesson is that your actions speak louder than your words.

3. If you speak to a man in a language he understands it goes to his head. If you speak to him in his native tongue it goes to his heart- One of the most valuable things you can do in this life is to learn another language. In relation to other other peoples Americans are woefully short on foreign languages. We generally don’t care. In an ever-globalizing and concurrently polarizing world, being informed and versatile in your skills and abilities makes you a valuable commodity for employers and a better world citizen. It’s all about relationships, and speaking a common language is the best “in” you can have.

4. Find something to be a part of- Whether it is a yoga class, book club or tea circle, find something. Every experience can be enhanced through participation in varied activities. For me it was organizing girls basketball in my town, coaching ping-pong at an after school center and most importantly spending time with my host family. Things I was minimally interested in before became my passions. I felt more connected with my community and more complete as a person. Finding new interests will help you to fill voids in your life, you may not have realized existed.

5. Let them go- It’s good to be a social creature. That being said, we all have a tendency to collect acquaintances, and on occasion forget who the most important people are to us. Leaving town for two years unfortunately cost me a lot of relationships. It was as though I had dropped off the face of the planet. But, and this is a big but, my family and best friends (Ivan Campuzano included) were always there with a phone call or an e-mail. In a lonely place and time I could always count on those people. Go on facebook and clean it up. Get rid of people who you no longer know, or bring you down. Bring the important people back to the forefront and keep them in focus.

6. Let them in- Do you ever look at your crowd of friends and realize that you all dress the same, think the same and could probably be interchanged with one another without too many people taking notice? Go out of your way to meet and engage people of different stripes. The good the bad and the ugly all have something to offer, and they are just the tip of the iceberg. New people add to the spice of life and keep conversation fresh. Often we are too comfortable with our crowd or too shy to meet different looking or new people. Make a point of engaging new people on a regular basis. You won’t often be disappointed.

7. Read baby read! Entertainment is ubiquitous these days. Bars, movies, video games and the internet are just a few examples. But what stands the test of time is good old fashioned literature. Lets examine the positives. Reading is quiet, generally cheap, lasts a while, is nearly infinite and makes you smarter. Don’t give up your other entertainment, but always keep a book or magazine on hand. Your brain will thank you.

8. Ride a bike- Sometimes you don’t realize what you’ve got until it’s gone. I thought I would love returning to the driving world after two years on two wheels. Nope. Besides the obvious benefit of exercise, I felt like I was outside when I was riding my bike. In the car I felt like I never went outside for anything. Does this sound familiar; house to car to work to car to house? Get outside, even if just for a little while each day. A little fresh air, a little exercise you will feel refreshed and rejuvenated. Whether it is on a bike, a skateboard, rollerblades or even your own two feet, getting around by man-power instead of horse-power is empowering.

9. Take a picture- It’ll last longer. As good as the feeling is when you are experiencing an incredible moment, it is unfortunately temporary. Maybe your memory is better than mine, but I have room for only so much stuff at a time, and too often some of the best stuff gets pushed to the side. Pictures, mementos, journals and keepsakes just help keep things fresher in your mind’s eye. The more well recorded your adventures, the better you will be able to relate those experiences to others, and to recall them for your personal enjoyment. Pictures are great visuals and the written word is unbeatable for expression of ideas and memories.

10. Kiss the girl- Some of us put ourselves in position to do so more frequently than others, but when the moment is right, you should know what to do and have the courage to do it. Finding the right person is often difficult, but when you do it is important to take advantage of the opportunity. Do what you can to make the timing right, whether that is a romantic dinner for two or a less private exchange with a group of friends. Whatever makes you and your romantic interest comfortable. Then just lean in and hope for the best.

Charley published a book called “Once Upon Peace Corps” which is a collection of letters and short stories written during his two year service in Morocco. In addition to the many insights and anecdotes there are many high quality photographs illustrating the times and people characterized within. Get his book here.

7 Responses to Top 10 lessons I learned as a Peace Corps Volunteer

  1. I really enjoyed this post by Charlie Silverman… it sounds like an account of how he found his humanity – beautiful.


  2. I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Estonia a decade ago and relate to a lot of what you write here, especially about seeing the world for yourself and keeping perspective on purpose. To #8 I would add that waking our biking through a place allows you to engage more closely with it and its people and in turn, understand it better. In a car, you’re removed and distant.

    Thanks for a great article and fresh perspective.
    .-= Audrey´s last blog ..The Golden Plaintain Awards: Best of Central American Food =-.

  3. As a current PCV I bike through a South African township every single day. I’ve made it a goal that I be able to bike to work (or at least bike to public transport that can take me to work) when I get back. Biking and walking through the township and villages each and everyday makes you see the world in completely new light and operate in a different mind set. I now have no problem stopping for a quick game of street soccer or giving kids a ride down my dirt road on my bike before “rushing” home.
    .-= Trevor´s last blog ..July Trip Part 1 =-.

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