My two-year mark has come and gone as quickly as mosquitoes flock to a gringo at dusk. Last week we had our Close of Service (COS) conference in the capital, where 517-13-01 (the name of our group who swore in as Peace Corps Volunteers together) celebrated and reflected on the experience we’ve had here on this island.
To say the least, COS was bittersweet. Like almost any other unit that trains, lives, and endures hardship together, 517-13-01 has become a tight-knit group. Although we live far apart in distance, a phone call with a fellow volunteer always seems to elicit sympathy, resolve frustration, and inspire endurance, creativity, and the motivation to continue with what we as a group set out to do. Our COS conference provided us with both closure and opportunities. We listened to the experience and advice of three Returned Peace Corps Volunteers who continue to work in the development world, and learned how to translate two years of service into convincing bullets points on a resume. Our Country Director explained how Peace Corps Volunteers can take advantage of non-competitive eligibility status, useful for those of us who wish to continue our careers working for the federal government. I shed tears during several visualization activities, stumped at the thought of how on earth I can say goodbye to two incredible networks I’ve created here in the Dominican Republic – my cohorts and my community. My family.
After two years, I’ve become aplatana’a. Essentially, native, as the Dominicans say. Though I still don’t understand or agree with certain parts of the culture, the uncertainty or uncomfortableness with other aspects has long since disappeared. No longer having to deal with uncertainty avoidance (a concept I was taught in Intercultural Communication classes and now can apply to real life experience), it’s easier and more comfortable to work and interact in a foreign environment. Loud noises during conversations, cramped guagua rides, non-formal education techniques, machismo tígueres, lethargic concepts of time, and superstitious doña myths have become normal, expected parts in the equation of sustainable development here in the Dominican Republic. Though they still present a challenge, setting out to work in this environment no longer seems as daunting because I’ve got two years of experience under my belt. Or better yet, bathing suit? Apron? Fingernails?
Having just co-coordinated a sub-regional conference for about 30 Chicas Brillantes, I am as busy as ever. Plans for the annual Construye Tus Sueños business competition are due at the end of the month, and I’m working with two young entrepreneurs to complete their plans – one who aims to start a clothing store and another who hopes to improve his already existing operations as a veterinarian. To top it all off, my mom and aunt came to visit! We painted a mural in the local high school with students of the junior class, and crafted artistic expressions of individual beauty with my Chicas Brillantes, who continue to impress and inspire me every day.
Additionally, I’d like to share that I’ve secured the help from a new project partner. Project partners, or key community contacts, are members from the local community that work in conjunction with volunteers to meet both local needs and Peace Corps’ goals. Essential to both community integration and the longevity of projects, they are the true volunteers. They are the people who, once the volunteer leaves, ensure the sustainability of a project, and continue to multiply education and opportunities throughout the community. Monica is a young woman from my community, who not only teaches Construye Tus Sueños and Chicas Brillantes with me, but has also become one of my closest friends on the island. A natural-born educator, Monica presents what we’ve planned together with grace and conviction. She imparts the same tools and knowledge that I could as a volunteer, but because she is native to the island, our audience receives it more instinctively. Seeing her impart tools and knowledge that I’ve introduced to her, and the positive effect she’s having on our students, has been one of the most rewarding parts of my service.
So for now, I’m staying. Yup!! I’ve signed up to stay another whole year on this island. Starting mid- to late-May, I will be living in the capital and working as the Peace Corps Volunteer Leader for the Community Economic Development sector. I will describe more of my plans and responsibilities as PCVL in a later post, but I figured I owed an announcement now that I’ve been officially cleared to stay on board ☺