There I was, staring choice in the face. Choice stared right back, offering me more selection than I had seen in years.
Standing under harsh lighting in a Target store, I marveled at the reusable water bottles. They filled an entire aisle. Various shapes, colors, and patterns hung from little metal pegs, overwhelming me. I pondered the pros and cons of BPA-free plastic versus metal, remembering that I could not find any for sale in Mexico. Not a single bottle.
There I was, experiencing a first-world problem. How wonderful to have so much choice; how difficult to make a selection. I was lost in the variety of features, sizes, and options. It felt like I needed to be an expert on the subject so that I could make the best choice to fit my lifestyle and image. Something that I had never considered somehow became immensely important in that moment. I froze, staring at the bottles.
I was burdened by choice.
Small, seemingly important questions surround almost everything in the USA. Initially, it was a bit of a culture shock. The presumably simple act of buying toothpaste and eggs were riddled with questions. Cage-free or Organic? Tartar protection with whitening, or cavity fighting with BriteSmile®? What is BriteSmile®?
Many new-comers to the USA can relate to the staggering feeling of shopping for the first time, depicted wonderfully in this clip from the movie “Moscow on the Hudson”.
As I accustomed myself to a customizable world, I got better at making choices. This was good because there were a lot of choices to make.
When I was medically separated from the Peace Corps, I was jolted out of my former reality. One day I woke up and had no address, no phone number, no job, and no plan. Suddenly, everything had to be re-imagined.
Just like buying a new water bottle, I felt simultaneously appreciative of having so many options and drowned in possibilities.
My decisions were further complicated by their interconnection. Which comes first, the job or the home? How do you get a phone number without an address, and how do you get an address without a phone number? How do you sign up for health insurance without knowing your state of residence nor your annual income?
With no financial and legal restrictions, with a good education and work experience, and with passport privilege, the world became enormous.
For three-months, I healed from my injury. For one month, I traveled. And for another month, I reconnected with my former community and former self. All the while, big life choices percolated in the back of my head.
I teeter-tottered between confidence and stress. One moment, I would be frustrated by so much uncertainty; the next moment I would let go, certain that I would find a wonderful niche for myself.
Four months and a lot of soul-searching later, I made my decision. I began preparations to move to Washington, DC!
Why Washington, DC?
The career: It is the most common place that Returned Peace Corps Volunteers settle, and for good reason. The capitol city offers many jobs in related fields such as international development and diplomacy. Volunteers are also granted one year of Noncompetitive eligibility, a proverbial backdoor into government jobs.
Since moving to DC, I have applied for positions at government agencies, companies that work on government contracts, think tanks that advise government policies, and non-profit organizations. The options are impressive and exciting.
The network: It is a networking city. Flush with professional associations and social groups, it seems like an easy place to connect, professionally and personally.
Before moving to DC, I saw that it is the region with the largest number of family, friends, and former colleagues outside of my home state and outside of Boston. It is a great place to land while I find my way, and a chance to reconnect with terrific people.
These photos from my temporary home will show why I am very content:
The lifestyle: It is one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world, and diversity begets vitality. Populated by a large number of young professionals, there is always something going on.
Now that I live in DC, I have discovered a love for fireflies and appreciate its bike-friendly streets. I can see that it will not be hard to find Spanish speaking friends, to host dinner parties, and to hone my yoga skills.
Why move now?
Returned Peace Corps Volunteers almost always need time after their service to reconnect and to readjust to the culture. It takes time to find solid footing before you are ready to take root, to develop a routine, and to nest in a new home.
Recently, I realized that I am more or less done with my cultural readjustment. Living out of suitcases and guest bathrooms is losing its luster, and I find myself daydreaming about my new, settled life.
The other limitation for me was my injury: I could not start over until I had recovered enough to regain independence. Well, I am happy to report that two weeks ago, I was able to walk to the grocery store, shop, and carry my items home afterward without any physical repercussions.
Why move now? I mentally and physically prepared, so it is time to start the next chapter.
I am moving forward into a bright future that is full of choices, and that is tremendous.