One year as a volunteer

365 days
1,000 tortillas
10,000 hugs

During the last year, I have been a Peace Corps volunteer. This involves self-immersion into languages, communities, and cuisines, all of which are crucial parts of getting work-related things done. And while the last two numbers in that list are estimates, they certainly do not feel like exaggerations. They feel more like the key to successful living in Mexico.

A lot can happen in a year, says the God on the Aztec calendar

A lot can happen in a year, says the God on the Aztec calendar

With that in mind, I thought that I would ring in my one year anniversary with a post about My Year in Numbers. Enjoy!

My commute In the last year, my trip to and from the office has taken me:

  • up a 2,000 feet elevation gain between my house and my office
  • 30 minutes in public transit, past hundreds of hairpin curves
  • a 40 minute wait if I miss the public transit, often spent in the rain and/or cold

My home In the last year I have lived:

  • in 3 different homes: with a host family, on my own, and with a great roommate
  • with a 57 degree Fahrenheit average annual temperature
  • within 1 hour transit of 4 fellow volunteers

My office In the last year, I have worked with:

  • 19 amazing people in an office with an average temp of 48-52 degrees, without internet or cell reception, with almost no budget, and with occasional electricity
  • almost 100 kilometers of amazing trails in a temperate, rainy, and very lovely forest
  • almost 2 Mbps of download speed and 0.5 Mbps of upload speed internet in my bedroom
Amazing co-workers, amazing park

Amazing co-workers, amazing park

My finances In the last year, my bank account has shown:

  • 450 US Dollars spent per month average on rent, food, travel, and other regular expenses
  • a sudden 7,750 US Dollar increase from a USAID grant to manage a major project in the national park
  • a few withdraws from my US bank account to purchase high-quality clothes for cold and rainy weather, items not available in Mexico

My personal life In the last year, I have:

  • completed 3 half-marathons
  • made 3 quality friends and approximately 50 acquaintances outside of Peace Corps Volunteers
  • increased 5 levels in my Spanish language capabilities (incredible!)

My work-related success stories In the last year, I can quantify the following work-tangibles:

  • 3 formal workshops delivered: Ecological sustainability; Interpretative techniques; Leave No Trace techniques
  • around 100 kilometers of trails mapped in the national park
  • 2 educational fairs attended/assisted
  • 1 week of ecological hikes led during the high tourism season
Leading a recorrido ecologico, an ecological-themed hike

Leading a recorrido ecologico, an ecological-themed hike

My travels In the past year, I have been fortunate enough to visit:

  • 9 states in Mexico, from the beach to 13,000 foot tall volcanoes with “magical towns” in between
  • 3 states in the United States, for a contest-win and for a family visit
  • 5 states in Mexico for work: project collaborations, meetings, workshops, and public fairs
Panoramic landscape in Central Mexico

Central Mexico is full of impressive panoramic vistas

My fellow volunteers In the past year:

  • 2 volunteers have left our group
  • almost 100% have cycled through cynicism and hope over and over and over, a natural part of learning how to work in a different and challenging system
  • countless times, they have inspired me with their successes despite some pretty hefty challenges

Challenges in the office In the last year, among many things, I have seen:

  • 2 counterparts come and go for some pretty tough reasons
  • 0 pesos paid to another counterpart for more than 7 months of work
  • countless communication problems due to indirectness, political hierarchies, and technological and physical challenges

My out-of-the-office successes In the last year, I have:

  • led 2 meetings and the organization of 8 other meetings as Chair of the Volunteer Action Committee, a role that is kind of like Student Council President for Peace Corps
  • created 2 blog sites, both of which receive great feedback from the intended audiences
  • hosted 2 large events to share US American culture with my Mexican friends: Thanksgiving and Independence Day
  • co-founded a club to support and encourage women to get out and enjoy nature and athletics
Club co-founders

Club co-founders

Independence Day party co-planners

Independence Day party co-planners

My household errands In the last year, I have learned that to manage my household, I must:

  • wait 30 minutes in line after a 15 minute walk to pay any bill. This is always done in-person
  • carry a 40 pound awkwardly-shaped containter for 4 blocks to have potable water in the house
  • wait 2-4 hours in my house for the gas truck to show up (every 2 months) so that I can use the oven and have hot water (shower only)
  • wait 15-30 minutes in line for the ATM in a cash-only economy. I cannot remember the last time I used a card

My health In the last year, I have:

  • gained 20 pounds (horrifying)
  • 4 times been sick with minor stomach problems
  • had 0 parasites, infections, viruses. All-in-all a great tract record for a volunteer!

Things that happened so many times, I lost count:

  • ran my route in the city, past the VIVE TU CIUDAD sign, up the hill with a panoramic view, and past people using the public exercise equipment: 5-15 kilometers, depending on how I feel
  • had plans canceled on me with little-to-no notice
  • said ni modo and “ohhhhh Mexico” in exasperation
Vive tu ciudad: Live your city!

Vive tu ciudad: Live your city!

Creating this list was a fun look back on the tangibles of the past year. But the biggest challenges, successes, and lessons-learned were intangible and unquantifiable. I like to think of the first year of Peace Corps as the symbolic toddler years; a time to learn, grow, fail, test, organize, plan, fail again; it is a time to find your footing. As they say in training, Peace Corps Volunteers bring knowledge, skills, and abilities. They just need to test them out in another setting, and that is where the steep learning curve begins, especially since the learning is done in a second language.

After a year, my fellow volunteers and I have been through the ringer. We have seen tremendous successes despite steep obstacles. We have experienced embarrassment and awkward situations over and over. We have thought and acted on our feet. And now we are ready to take on ambitions development projects with our counterparts, in the Mexican context.

—————————

There is a funny thing about the Peace Corps one year anniversary: You cannot help but to switch your mentality. Almost all volunteers start out saying “I will be living here 24 months!” but at the one year mark, the count down begins. Wording shifts to “I have only 12 months left.”

Part of that is that we feel pressure to get things done in time for a relaxed closure and departure. Part of that is our natural need to anticipate and plan for our next step in life. For us, at the one year mark we begin a mental battle to think about our future while at the same time enjoying the moment.

I hope that I remember the Mexican approach during the next year: the future will certainly come, but I am here now. And that is where we all are.

Sometimes the journey needs to pass along a sandy, warm beach

Sometimes the journey needs to pass along a sandy, warm beach

—————————

Making me smile, Mexico-life in a year edition:

  • Working at a beautiful national park with kind and fun co-workers, despite the challenges
  • Volunteering for an organization that supports global peace, friendship, and international development
  • Maintaining footing in two different countries
  • Discovering myself in a new context
  • Putting to the test my humility, sense of humor, patience, stamina, tolerance, openness, and flexibility needed for this lifestyle
  • Watching the new group go through training and then swearing in as volunteers, inducted into our funny little club. Group 15, you have already learned many lessons, yet you have so many more to be experienced first-hand during your service. ¡Muy buena suerte a todos!
  • Happily surviving the last year with a wonderful group of people, ¿cómo habría sobrevivido todo esto sin ustedes? Me alegra estar acá como parte de esta familía loca.
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3 responses to “One year as a volunteer

  1. Congrats on the first year! What a great accomplishment!
    Good for you. We are always looking forward to that next blog post, so we cant wait to see what a whole year will bring.
    love you!

  2. Proud to know you for so many reasons–can’t wait to hear what you do next to make the planet a better place!

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