Exhausted. Nervous. Hopeful. Proud. Grateful. Stressed out. Emotionally drained. These words can’t begin to summarize how I felt after arriving back at site from the 5th and final Peace Corps conference of my service. In 3 short days, we reflected, processed, and discussed planning for the future. We were warned how difficult it’s likely going to be returning to the States after service and given a hodgepodge of advice on topics from handling mental breakdowns in grocery stores to appropriate networking strategies.
The Close of Service Conference means that service is almost over—but not quite. It’s a reminder that with the end of Peace Corps, comes the end of my catch-all health care, monthly allowance, and visa. It’s a gentle kick in the pants to tell volunteers that now is a good time to think about jobs or school or whatever’s next, but also stay focused and finish strong at site. Some volunteers will wrap up in less than two months and are in a greater hurry than others. Meanwhile, because I chose to extend my service, I’ve still got 5 more months to go.
However, I will not get the chance to see most of my batchmates before their services come to a close and they start their next chapters. It’s unlikely we’ll all be neatly collected in one place again. But, to be fair, that’s been true of every training. Of the 73 of us that started together in the country just about two years ago, only 35 remain. The rest, willingly or unwillingly, had to end their Peace Corps service early.
That’s a strange aspect of Peace Corps service—it’s hard to know when the final goodbyes to batchmates are actually happening. I hate double goodbyes (and single goodbyes in general), so I find this situation frustrating. When leaving the COS conference I opted for an abrupt, awkward group, “Bye everyone! Good Luck! See ya!” Maybe not the most tactful. It does nothing to communicate the extreme gratitude I have for the 72 Americans that signed up for this crazy experience with me, especially the 34 others still hanging in. It doesn’t indicate my willingness to stay in touch or to provide support however possible. It doesn’t touch on the sadness creeping in on having to close out this part of my life.
In addition to goodbyes, I also don’t like having to state the obvious. But, I’m learning some things are important enough to be said, no matter how obvious they seem. I should say clearly how extremely grateful I am to my batchmates. Even just knowing that others were dealing with the same struggles, work and personal, made the difficult parts of service better. We all leaned on each other when needed– exchanged ideas, vented, and entertained one another. We took ridiculous vacations together, visited each other’s sites and helped on projects. I’m sad to see the end of my service coming up, and I’m especially sad to be losing this network of like-minds, connected to each other through parallel experiences (and facebook chat) but spread across more than 10 different islands.
That’s all for now. Now, back to work. Maybe I’ll share an update how that’s all been going soon.