Staging is what the Peace Corps calls the day, or several days, that takes place in the US right before all of the new trainees head out to their country of service. The purpose of this event is get everyone together and review main goals and expectations. Our staging was scheduled as follows:
July 1, 2016
12:00 PM: Registration
2:00 – 4:25 PM: Who We Are, What You Expect, What’s Next
4:25 – 4:45 PM: Break
4:45 – 7:00 PM: What We Expect, Closing
July 2, 2016
5:00 AM: Check out of hotel
5:30 AM: Bus arrives for loading and departure to the airport
In order to make staging a success, the Peace Corps must organize, in our case, 72 individual flights from all over the country. Most of these flights went out same day. According to the US Dept of Transportation, over 15% of flights end up being delayed. That works out to being about 11 of us. And, of course, I was one of those 11.
After a long delay for take off, post-boarding (due to a missing log book), I made it to staging just about 3 hours after it had begun. I was exhausted, disoriented, overwhelmed, emotional and excited (also probably a bit smelly). But, with no time to waste, I had to jump right in.
I learned that Peace Corps was conceived in 1961, when JFK was late to a speech at the University of Michigan. Apparently, he arrived in the early hours of the morning to find that thousands of students had patiently awaited his arrival to hear his speech scheduled to take place the previous evening. So, not to disappoint, he gave the speech at 3 am on the main steps of the campus. He asked this group of clearly motivated students if they would be willing to go abroad and dedicate themselves to several years of service in the developing world. After an overwhelming positive response, a major petition spanning hundreds of universities, a historic election, and an executive order, the Peace Corps sent its first Volunteers in August of 1972. Since then, over 220,000 volunteers have served.
We also discussed our expectations for service, particularly our anxieties and what we were most excited about. Of course, it seemed all of us shared a lot of the same thoughts. Anxieties included struggling to communicate, separation from loved ones, illness, crime, loneliness, bugs, joining in a host family and natural disasters. We talked about how these concerns were not unfounded, and the best we can to is to realistically prepare ourselves for what is to come. On the flip side, many of us voiced excitement to master a language, experience a new culture, grow as a person, and enjoy the beauty that the Philippines has to offer. Discussing these thoughts as group was an extremely helpful exercise, at least for me. I could see how other shared my fears, but also my reasons for wanting to face them. As bizarre as this endeavour feels right now at the start (and that’s very bizarre), it’s comforting to be surrounded by people going through the same experience.
After a break, where I caught up on what I missed (a few signatures, having my passport returned, getting a little walking around money, and a survey), we resumed and talked about the Peace Corps’s 10 Core Expectations and how they come into play in potentially difficult scenarios. We talked about how we would handle issues including racism, harassment, religious differences, and wanting to leave early (know as ETing for early termination).
ETing is major occurrence in the Peace Corps. Unlike military service, staying the entire time of the assignment is hoped for, but not mandatory. As a PCV, we can return home whenever. They’ll even pay for the flight. For reference, of the 88 PC Philippines volunteers that began this journey last year, only 64 remain. That’s more than a quarter. The little fact is certainly concerning. Being a volunteer comes with challenges and stresses unlike anything experienced back home in the US. It seems that finishing out the whole service isn’t what’s best for everyone.
We wrapped up as a group with some organizational prep, a visualization exercise, and a group picture. Then we were done. All of us were officially Peace Corps trainees. The real part of our travels began at 5am the next morning for our flight out at 10:45 am. (Turns out, planning for 4 hours to get a group of 72 through bag check and security is about right. I guess they’ve done this before.) Next, onto three months of training, after which we will be sworn in as official Peace Corps Volunteers. Wish us luck!