They say that being a Peace Corps Volunteer means doing the “hardest job you’ll ever love.” While I’m sure the hardest things are most certainly yet to come, there have already been some hard moments along the path to being a Peace Corps candidate.
Joining Peace Corps is hard for many reasons, but one reason that is shared, I imagine, by nearly ever applicant is the long, slow process of attempting to serve. The application process can take well over a year for some people, and as little as six months for others. Peace Corps puts applicants through what feels like a very opaque process, and you know very little about your status as an applicant until they contact you. The waiting, frequently referred to as Restless Applicant Syndrome (RAS), can be brutal and lonely.
For me, perhaps the hard part of the waiting isn’t the not knowing much about where I might go, but rather the uncertainty if A) I’m going to go at all and B) trying to live in a limbo of not making any plans that extend past September. Some would argue that this is foolish, and I should live my life as normally as possible until I actually know I’m going to leave – invitation in hand. Peace Corps even warns in their application that applicants should not leave their job/living arrangement/etc. until they know for certain that they have been cleared and invited for service. Still, it’s very difficult to not look into the future and try to plan for service. Being gone for 2 and a quarter years means essentially leaving your life in the States behind. You must plan financially, deal with all your stuff, leave your job, and perhaps most difficult of all: leave your friends, family, and loved ones.
And even then, the leaving in itself isn’t so hard. You say good bye, perhaps you have a party to send you off. People are happy for you. They are sad to see you leave because they love you. It’s a bittersweet feeling. I like bittersweet. It’s such a fine, delicate mix of all the most powerful experiences in life.
However, waiting to be invited to Peace Corps is a whole lot of leaving without actually going anywhere. And it’s hard to be always leaving. I’ve spent most of the last seven years in some degree of departure – from relationships, from places, from degree programs – and I’ve found a certain peace with never being too comfortable for too long. However, it is a hard thing to love someone very much, and have to leave them for the sake of a potential departure further on down the road. That weird juxtiposition of leaving and loving is where I found myself last week when my dear boyfriend and I decided it was wisest to part ways.
We had both known throughout the duration of our relationship that we would separate if/when I joined the Peace Corps. When I applied, we had our first awkward conversation about it. Since then, we had discussed it so many times that it seemed like it would never really happen. Like practicing fire drills without ever escaping from a real fire. Now, my invitation seems tantalizingly close and suddenly the weight of my someday-departure was too much, and we have gone our separate ways.
I’ve heard people say that those who always seek a new horizon will eventually find themselves gazing into the sun all alone. Perhaps that is true, and my inborn desire to always move forward and seek out the new and unknown and secret human experiences of life will always, to some degree, find me parting from those I hold closest. It is, frankly, a bit of a depressing thought, for I hold close relationships dearer to my heart than most anything else. I suppose the best one can do is find refuge in the meaningful time spent with someone who loves you, and who you love in return. I feel very lucky that I was able to love my recent ex for so long, and to have his love.
Will Peace Corps be worth all this leaving? I believe so, but the slow ripping of your life from its velcroed state is certainly not easy.