September 23, 2011.
As I sat in my apartment in Charleston, IL almost two years ago, I began my application for the Peace Corps. At that moment I felt a calling to join the thousands of volunteers who go abroad with the Peace Corps each year to promote world peace and friendship. Of course, it was much too early to submit my application since I would not be finishing graduate school until May 2013. So I took my time completing the application, writing my essays and selecting my references.
May 13, 2012.
I sat at my parent’s house in McHenry, IL after finishing my first year of graduate school. I was preparing to go to India for two and a half months for an internship and knew I needed to submit my Peace Corps application before I left. I held my breath as I clicked the button to submit the application I had been working on for the last eight months. I applied as an open candidate, meaning that I gave no preference as to where I would like to serve.
August 2012-January 2013.
After spending the summer abroad in India, I returned to Eastern Illinois University for my second year and final year of graduate school. After completing an interview at the Peace Corps office in Chicago in August, and receiving notice of my nomination for the Youth in Development Sector in November, I was simply waiting to see where I would be invited to serve. This left plenty of time for questions: Would I be placed in a country I had never heard of? Would I have to learn a new language? Would I be placed in a small village with no electricity or running water or would I be placed in a large city with access to modern technology?
January 10, 2013.
I was working as a graduate assistant in the Office of Study Abroad. Sitting at my desk next to my fellow graduate assistant and the peer advisor in our office I made a very loud and strange noise. Everyone turned to me thinking that I must have been stabbed. For what seemed like an eternity, I could not make out words to communicate what I wanted to say. I had just received the email I had been waiting for since early October: “Dear Sara, Congratulations! It is with great pleasure that we invite you to begin training in Guatemala for Peace Corps service.”
Again I sit in my parent’s house in McHenry, IL, preparing for another journey abroad. This time I will not be going for a short term study abroad, instead, almost two and a half years in Guatemala.
I still have a lot of questions: What exactly will I be doing as a Youth Development Volunteer? How the heck do you pack for two and half years? Will I learn to speak a Mayan language while I am in Guatemala? Where will I be placed after I complete pre-service training?
I can only describe the feeling of preparing to leave for two and a half years as bittersweet insanity.
On one hand, I am sad about having to say goodbye to my family and friends. When I leave for Peace Corps my nephew will be five, and when I come back he will be eight and a half. I am also freaking out about packing. How many shoes, clothes, and granola bars can I fit into my backpack and suitcase? On the other hand, I am excited to meet my fellow volunteers in Guatemala, live with a host family again, learn about the culture and history of Guatemala, put some use to my undergraduate Spanish minor, and be a part of a group of people that are making a difference in the world. And once about every five minutes I have a small panic attack: Do I have enough time to make another road trip to see my old college friends? Did I remember to pick up my immunization record? Do I have my student loan deferment forms filled out? Did I call AT&T and cancel my cell phone plan? It is in this time of bittersweet insanity that I rely on my passion for international education and cultural exchange to help me get through this transition to life as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Guatemala, here I come!