On the morning of Wednesday, November 16, I did something I never thought I’d do. I told Peace Corps staff to send me home. In Peace Corps lingo, I “early terminated”. Within just three hours, I was packed up and in a Peace Corps car on my way from our training town to the capital to complete some paperwork and medical exams. By Saturday afternoon, I was back in San Francisco.
So how did the woman who’s wanted to serve in the Peace Corps since winter break of her freshman year in college end up quitting before swear-in? My decision to leave the Peace Corps was not one that I made lightly. For those closest to me, you know that I agonized over it. My journey to get into the Peace Corps was a long and difficult one. I had applied my senior year of college, going through the entire application process only to be rejected. I had worked in various volunteer capacities and taken language courses specifically to be better qualified for service throughout college. I had practiced and practiced for my interview. When that didn’t work, I went abroad to teach English in Ecuador with WorldTeach in the hopes that I’d be more qualified to serve with Peace Corps, and I applied again. Once accepted back in January, my family spent around $1000 on medical work required of accepted applicants before starting service. I spent countless hours in medical and dental offices, and at post offices to mail documents, and at the embassy to get my visa. It was to be the adventure of a lifetime, and I’d worked really hard to get there. And then…
Fast-forward to September 1, 2016. I land in Maputo, Mozambique to begin thirteen weeks of training. Everything starts out okay. My host family in our training town is wonderful. I learn how to take bucket baths, how to cook on charcoal, how to speak Portuguese and a bit of xangana. There are ups and downs, but I’m hanging on. Six weeks into training, we are assigned our sites and shipped out shortly thereafter for a 2.5-week visit in our new communities. That’s when I seriously began to question what I was doing there. Being in the middle of a desert, with nothing but leafless dying trees and sandy dirt for miles and miles can make even the strongest of humans question everything.
The days passed by and, aside from having a few hours of classroom observations, myself and my roommate were more or less left to our own devices. Walking miles upon miles every day, traversing the whole 2-mile or so length of the town and then into the bush, I tried to imagine myself living there for two years of service. Two years in an extremely isolated area over two hours off a dirt road from the nearest other volunteer and the nearest city. Two years in a town that many of the teachers themselves said they couldn’t wait to escape. Two years in a town that grew up around a prison created during the Portuguese colonial rule, built in such a desolate area precisely so prisoners couldn’t escape. Two years with an extremely limited food supply (my roommate and I counted approximately 20 things available in the market, including things such as garlic, onions, and rice). Two years in a place where many of my would-have-been colleagues slept with their young female students in exchange for better grades. Two years away from my family and friends, with no guarantee of a visit home. Two years of being away from Latin America, the place I had dedicated my studies to by majoring in Latin American History, taking several Spanish classes, working with Latin American immigrants and refugees, and teaching a class on Latin American history through film. Two years of bearing the weight of having left a man I love deeply in a country I couldn’t hope to visit during my service because I couldn’t afford the airline tickets.
Physically, I was miserable. I was sweltering in the 100-degree-plus-heat with no electricity, waking up every hour drenched in sweat and praying for a breeze. I was eating stewed leaves as my main source of sustenance and eating made me sweat. I was walking miles upon miles in dirt every day. Fruit was a luxury. Chocolate was a three-mile walk away. Bat-infested classrooms, including chirping and poop at all hours of the day, made for a smelly and sad situation. Emotionally, I was miserable. I had never felt more alone in my life. I missed my boyfriend so sharply it kept me up at night. I didn’t feel very connected to my cohort of trainees, which added to the feeling of loneliness and isolation. I felt appalled by the way men treated women, and didn’t know if I could deal with that for two years. Merely looking out at the landscape, completely void of any water or greenery, was enough to make me feel depressed. I was struggling to find meaning. I missed Ecuador. I missed Latin American cultures. The time difference made talking to family and friends back home a significant challenge.
I talked with several friends and family members in great detail, mostly in tears, about how miserable I was feeling and how I wasn’t sure if I could survive two years there, but about how much I had wanted to do service. I knew there was meaningful work to be done in my site in Mozambique: with English education, with gender and development, with building relationships across cultures. It cut me deeply that I was doubting my convictions that I could survive there. I had come to do service, and with that came struggles and hardships. There was positive change to be made, and I could be a part of it. I went back and forth–should I stay or should I go? more times than I can count. What kind of person would quitting a service position make me?, I wondered. I had never quit a job before in my life. During my first week at site, I cried about four to five times per day. This isn’t normal, I thought. In one phone call with my sister, she said something that really struck me. If you stay there, miserable for two years, she said, will you come back a better person, or a bitter one? Eventually I came to the conclusion that I could not be healthy and happy in my community given the situation, and I made the painful decision to leave. I abandoned my pride, all that I had done to get into Peace Corps in the first place, and my hope for making a difference in Mozambique. I told staff to send me home, with only a dream to get back to Ecuador and a lot of tears.
Before making this decision final, I had been poking around online looking for ways to return to Latin America. I remembered that my previous supervisor had told me in an email that she was still looking for an Assistant Field Director for a new fellowship program in Ecuador, and I decided to give it a shot and apply. I had also decided that if this didn’t work, I would spend a couple months at home substitute teaching and saving money to be able to afford to return to Ecuador as a teacher.
And then the incredible happened. The evening of the day that I resigned from Peace Corps, I received a job offer with WorldTeach to serve as the Assistant Field Director. Not only would I be returning to the organization I love and the man I love and the country I love, but I would also have the opportunity to learn so much through doing a new type of job AND I’d still be doing meaningful work with a non-profit. I’m not one to believe in fate, but if there was ever a time in my life where I did, it was the moment I got that email. I accepted immediately, and on November 27, a mere 10 days after I resigned from Peace Corps, I was on a plane back to Quito.
It’s been one hell of a whirlwind, what with shifting between three continents in the course of a couple weeks, and I’m still processing everything. Currently, I’m in Quito, living in a beautiful apartment, working long but productive and happy days with the WorldTeach team, and spending as much time as I can with the man I love. I will always carry with me the weight of quitting the Peace Corps and the what ifs, but I am so excited about what the future holds for me in these next two years in Ecuador. And please, if you didn’t come last time, come visit me!
Happy, healthy, and whole again in beautiful Ecuador. ❤