I’ve been telling lots of folks lately about joining the Peace Corps. It’s a big thing in my life. Understandable.
And when people hear the news, I immediately get peppered with four questions in rapid-fire succession:
“Where are you going to be living?”
“What are you going to be doing?”
“You know they have tapeworms longer than the Tuesday morning line at the DMV after a holiday, right?”
“What made you decide to do this?”
My answers to the first three questions are always the same: Zambia! Fisheries! I’ve already got one picked out with my name on it!
But my answer to the fourth question changes constantly. Because while the Peace Corps is extremely well-respected for a federal government institution, it still carries certain connotations and assumptions and generalizations for many people. I must have subconsciously decided somewhere along the way that I didn’t want to come off as too naive/idealistic to some people, didn’t want to be seen as a drainer of taxpayer money to other people, didn’t want to seem too calculating and self-serving to still others. So I find myself tailoring my response according to the profile of the person with whom I’m chatting.
If it’s a colleague at work, I highlight the professional development opportunities and the year of noncompetitive federal employee status upon completing service. If it’s a current college student, I emphasize the impressive resume fodder and opportunities for adventure and exploration. If it’s a fellow early-20-something, I describe weighing my options and coming to the conclusion that of the myriad forks in the road that recent grads must choose from — work, grad school, move back home with the parents, internship, traveling, volunteering — I already tried the first, don’t have enough direction yet to do the second, refuse to do the third, and the Peace Corps was the best possible combination of the other three.
If it’s an older person, I talk about how I found myself becoming restless in my comfortable office job and wanted to make a career change. If it’s a younger person, I wax rhapsodic about wanting to help people and make a difference in the world. If it’s a social liberal, I talk about how I want to broaden my perspective on development and public works. If it’s a fiscal conservative, I talk about how the Peace Corps in my opinion promotes a significant amount of goodwill internationally on a much smaller budget than any other diplomatic branch of the government. If it’s my family, I point out that my father got all of his amazing qualities from his experience serving as a Peace Corps volunteer and I don’t think I’ll ever outgrow that 5-year-old part of me that wants to be just like Dad. Okay, so this works on most people.
And you, lucky you, oh 3.7 blog readers per day, you get to read them all.
They’re all true, by the way. I just feel that some reasons resonate more strongly with certain people than others. Heck, some reasons resonate more strongly with ME at certain times than others. I’m still trying to get a handle on that.