the why.

When I tell people that I’m going to be a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa for the next two years, they have different reactions. Many of them worry. Some think that I’m crazy.

One common response that makes me uncomfortable goes something like this: “You’re giving up two years of your life to help other people. Wow. That’s so great. It will be such an adventure.” I always respond with a smile, because this seems appropriate. But inside, I squirm.

Another common reaction to my plans is to ask why. This is a tricky one. It must be fun to watch me quickly unravel into an inarticulate mess. It does not help that most people already have their own idea of why someone might do this.

As part of the application for Peace Corps, every wannabe volunteer must write a motivation statement. I’m pasting in a few paragraphs of mine, as I still think this was my best attempt at explaining why it is I do what I do:

“…I do not crave travel—how often does the traveler truly know his destination?I do not want to put my life in a suitcase and keep it there while hopping between interesting places.I want a place to change me.Visitors meet people and see celebration.Stay-ers meet and know people.They see celebration and grief, routine, tradition, and sometimes even transformation.I want to settle in and figure out the signals, have time to make mistakes and breakthroughs, and come to understand the unfamiliar.In doing so, I want to better comprehend my own place in the world.These sorts of goals, paired with a desire to understand and do something about poverty, naturally point towards the Peace Corps.

“I have had a lot of encouragement that has helped build my Peace Corps ambition. Mostly this has come from people who I respect and admire […] From these PCVs and RPCVs, I have heard about and seen the realities of service. Their experiences inspire me.

“From them, I have also learned that a healthy dose of idealism, while useful, cannot make the Peace Corps experience perfect. Part of serving is questioning–yourself, your purpose, your place. I want this challenge. Having studied international development, I have a framework through which I have come to understand the world. I want this to be turned upside-down, destroyed, reshaped, and rebuilt […] all while trying to accomplish something more concrete: teaching, building, planning, planting.

“I do hope that there are things that I can do that will better the life situation of others. I would like this opportunity to try. What can I do to improve inequalities? How can I better understand the forces that move people? What do I do in order to better know America and myself? […]”

I wrote a bit more, but basically that is my attempt at explaining the why. It’s the best I’ve been able to do so far.

I’m not giving up two years of my life. This is my life. I’m not putting anything else on hold. This is me. Living.

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