September 29th, 2008
Each Peace Corps applicant and future volunteer has a store of images of Peace Corps service that have influenced their view of the Peace Corps and inspired them to apply. These images multiply from the time we first decide to apply until we arrive in our host countries. They grow to include us and our hopes and dreams until we have created our own Peace Corps promotional video in our minds and we are the stars. In my Peace Corps fantasy, I am riding a beautiful Akhal Teke steed from village to village, wearing intricately embroidered Turkmen garments, assisting local midwives as they catch healthy, fat babies thanks to my promotion of pre-natal care and pregnancy education.
I know this snapshot leaves out all the sickness, frustration and loneliness that a volunteer is bound to feel at some point in their two years of service. However, when I take away all the glamour and lights, I can see the essence of my dreams and expectations. For me, this means that I hope to work with local healthcare providers to educate patients on women’s health issues and to learn from their knowledge and skills. Specifically, I’m interested in working with midwives and doctors in rural areas to help them make improvements in areas where they see need. I feel very passionate about the importance of health education, especially for women, who are often the primary healthcare providers for their families. Reproductive health is intricately tied to women’s education and women’s rights. Supporting women’s active roles in their families’ and their communities’ healthcare is a crucial step to equality and development.
I hope to be able to put my skills as a patient educator and health education teacher to work in new and challenging situations in Turkmenistan. However, if I would be assigned to work more closely with populations outside of my experience, I’m sure it would enable me to expand my interests and extend my skills to other areas. I hope that there will be an exchange of knowledge and skills between me and my colleagues and they will see me as an apprentice of sorts, as well as someone that can help them on new and continuing projects.
No matter what I find myself doing, communication with my colleagues and community members will be the key to accomplishing goals. I expect that there will be a huge learning curve when trying to communicate, especially when communicating health messages and trying to address needs. Dealing with sexual and reproductive health topics, that I am very comfortable expressing in my own language and culture, will prove particularly challenging for me to learn to mediate in a new language and culture. Therefore, gaining the respect and confidence of local community members will require me to tailor my behavior to local norms and customs whenever possible.
Earnestly learning a second language as an adult is a good way to integrate into a community. It is a very humbling experience that by nature makes one less intimidating and more accessible to native speakers, since everyone can easily feel like they have something to teach the language learner right from the beginning. This is an excellent way to foster reciprocity. By sacrificing one’s comfort level- and at times one’s dignity-, it is not only easier to learn to communicate, but easier to make friends and be included in community life.
Another useful adaptation skill is my personal knack for keeping myself busy. Somehow I am able to create work for myself, even when other people feel like there is nothing to do (which can be either a benefit or a challenge depending on the context). I like to make simple tasks into “jobs” for myself so I always feel like I’m accomplishing things. I grew up with very minimal television exposure and I have never relied on technology for entertainment. As long as there are people to talk to, things to read or materials to sew, paste, weave or otherwise put together I believe I’ll be able to avoid the boredom that many volunteers speak of when they discover the amount of free time they have while serving.
I know from my past experiences abroad that I can expect to have highs and lows, emotionally and physically as well as personally and professionally. I know that I will have to work hard to see the results of my work. This will require me to be extremely patient and flexible in my ideas of progress. It will be important to try not to take things personally that may be based on cultural disconnects and it will be necessary to consult several sources when it comes to addressing problems.
Pre-service training will prepare me with adequate proficiency in the language to build on throughout my term of service. I am also convinced that living with local families is necessary to truly understand a people and their culture. I look forward to that opportunity and I prefer to live in that situation throughout my time there, if possible. The technical skills that I will learn will also be important and will enable me to adapt my skills to the new projects that will present themselves. Reading up on Turkmen culture, learning as much as I can about the language and people, and meeting RPCV will also help me prepare myself before I arrive at staging. What these sources can’t prepare me for I will make up with a sense of humor, keen observation and persistence once I arrive.
My professional goals include building on my practical skills in public health and applying the knowledge I already possess, learning Turkmen and possibly other languages, starting my own projects or building off others’ projects and getting local people motivated to participate, gaining a better understanding of navigating “the system” when it comes to bringing projects to fruition in the face of daunting bureaucratic quagmires , and to obtain hands-on experience that will help me decide where my next career steps will lead me; either to nursing school to become a Certified Nurse Midwife or to graduate school to do a Masters in Public Health or Education, or possibly a combination of these.
My personal goals are to do everything I can do to be respected in the community I live and work in, to have a good relationship with my host families since I have always relied heavily on these relationships for strength and support in my past experiences living abroad, to be grateful for everything I have there and not be a complainer, to ask for help when I need it, to be a positive role model for the young people and women I’ll meet there, to learn a traditional Turkmen craft or art, and to create nurturing bonds with other volunteers. With patience, perseverance and a generous spirit, I’ll be able to accomplish these goals, no matter what the details of my life and work there may be.