As I close up my projects in site, Peru 17 is just settling into Peru. It’s crazy to look back at when I was in their place, sitting on the green couches in Chaclacayo, listening intently to any advice current volunteers could pass on, and spending every waking minute with other volunteers. I still remember feeling excited and looking forward to every experience because it was new. Things are certainly different now. Here’s a few nuggets of wisdom I would share with the newbies:
- Stick up for yourself. PC tends to focus on two extremes regarding your attitude towards the culture: to integrate, to be sensitive and accommodating to the culture and people vs. be afraid, be cautious of anyone trying to take advantage of you. I personally think that you should do what you feel comfortable with. Don’t just do something because you think you should. PCVs worry a lot about being ‘disrespectful’ to their host families and counterparts. While obviously you shouldn’t be rude, it’s ok to say no if you don’t want to do something. When you’re in your site, no one is looking out for you, except yourself. You need to remember that you’re here for 2 years and that time is going to pass much more slowly if you’re always uncomfortable.
- Explore new things. Almost all volunteers are going to have a decent amount of free time. Staying productive can really be a challenge. Reading, watching movies, learning a new skill, doing crafts with kids - this is your opportunity to try something new. You have the time, things cost pretty cheap here, and no one will judge you.
- Travel. We are lucky to be in a country with so many diverse places to see. Make time to visit them all, including Kuelap and Goeta waterfalls in Chachapoyas, beaches in Mancora, sandboarding and Paracas Islands and white water rafting in Lima/Ica, ruins and history in Trujillo and Chiclayo, the northern or southern jungle, Lake Titicaca, Colca Canyon in Arequipa, hiking and rock climbing in Huaraz, and most of all, visit volunteers in their sites. We all know how nice it is to have visitors meet the people we work with and love in our sites.
- Don’t take PC too seriously. Lots of volunteers get anxious and stressed by comparing themselves to other volunteers or worrying incessantly about what PC staff thinks. It’s just a job and not your life.
- Remember how lucky you are. 2 years might seem long, but you’ll be going back to the comforts of your home in the US afterwards.
- Keep in touch. Write a monthly email to friends and family back home. They’re really interested in your life, just like you’re interested in theirs. Don’t forget about them.