This is a weird post to write (hard? surreal?), because I never thought I would write it.
Quite a while ago, I wrote a post about early termination, and why people sometimes choose to leave Peace Corps. I wrote it at a time when I was contemplating just what the heck I was doing in Zambia, and what purpose my service was truly serving. Mine? Zambia’s? My government’s?
Over time, I fell back into the rhyme and reasons of why I was here. I didn’t doubt the reasons of my service, and I still don’t.
But, I’m going home anyway. Or, I should say, we are going home. I never thought I’d say these words, but Rob and I are going to early terminate our Peace Corps service this week. On Tuesday, June 23rd we boarded a plane to America, and on Wednesday, June 24th, we landed in Homer, Alaska. Our Peace Corps service is over.
Why did we leave? Well, because sometimes life doesn’t time itself perfectly, and because somethings an opportunity comes along that you just can’t pass up. For us, we were offered that opportunity. For those of you who are long-time followers of this blog, you know that fisheries and fisheries research are a great passion of mine. A few months ago, I applied (on a long-shot chance) to a PhD program offered at a Norwegian university. The program is a fully-funded 3-year PhD that takes a multidisciplinary approach to anthropology and conflict over fisheries resources. It’s a social science degree, and as is rather unheard of in the world of social science research, this program has offered to pay the Norwegian krone equivalent of 50,000 euros to their social sciences PhD candidate. The research takes place in Norway, Germany, and France, with training programs aimed at early-stage researchers (such as myself) all over Europe.
If you’re thinking, “This sounds waaay to good to be true,” then you are not alone. I thought the same. Funding? Travel? Being paid to study something that would shape my ideal career? Work with a robust and excellent department of social scientists? What parallel universe IS this?
Rob and I discussed it for several weeks before we arrived at the same conclusion: I’d be a fool to not at least apply. So I did, and a few weeks ago, I received an email I had given up on ever coming. They offered me the position, and (after Rob and I jumped around with excitement mid-teeth brushing), I happily accepted the position.
But, we knew from the beginning, from the day I applied, that if I was accepted we would have to leave Peace Corps early. This is a one-time program; it starts in August and there won’t be a repeat. So, if we got the word to go, we knew we’d have to be on a plane quickly after.
I worried a lot about how this would affect Rob; we were “married” just six months ago, he had moved to a whole new village, and he would be leaving for me and not for his own reasons. To my amazement, Rob never hesitated when I first told him about the program, and never lost faith (even after I had) that I would be offered the job.
Rob spent eight months living in The Hague during his undergrad, and traveled widely around Europe during his studies. His favorite country? Norway. His favorite city? Berlin (where I’ll be doing a substantial amount of work). We had discussed many times that the only way we’d leave Peace Corps (barring a medical separation) would be if the perfect opportunity came alone. When I read the call for applications to Rob, his first response was, “Wow, that sounds amazing.”
And it is, but not just for me. Because I will have the equivalent of residency in Norway as an employee of my university (PhD students are given employee status!), Rob will have access to Norwegian schools where he can pursue a masters degree for the grant total of about $100USD per semester. I will give you a moment to stare slack-jawed at your screen, because that’s what we did to each other when we figured out what tuition would be. $1-0-0 buckarooskies. Per semester. That is some kind of academic miracle (also known as socialism, I think) that, after both of us working our butts of during school to avoid crippling debt, gave us tremendous hope for our academic futures.
And that brings us to this week, where after 16 months of Peace Corps service, we find ourselves back home with six weeks of home time head of us before we make our big move to Norway. We are both on our way to the academic programs we want to be doing, and we will have the money from my salary (and a neat-o part-time gig Rob’s dad has helped him find) to live a modest but comfortable life. And, c’mon, after our time in the Zambian bush, any sort of running water and/or electricity situation sounds pretty high-roller.
None of this, of course, makes leaving Peace Corps any easier. Leaving our village and all the people who have been friends and neighbors to us was heart-breaking. We’ve made so many great friends in the Peace Corps, and we hope we will see them again in the future. We have gained more from our service than I could ever describe in words (or wedding rings), and I wouldn’t take back my decision to join Peace Corps for all the cheeseburgers and clean public restrooms in the world. Zambia is etched in our hearts. We wish we could have stayed another six months and been that much closer to our true close of service date (April 2016), but sometimes life calls you and there are things you can’t pass up. Peace Corps was one of those things, and this is too.
So, should you find yourself in Norway, dear readers, look us up. Oh, and stay tuned to this blog! I have many more draft entries about Peace Corps and Zambian life that I’ll continue to publish, along with my This Peace Corps Life series and all my adventures to come. In the meantime, thank you for your continued readership and being so wonderful and supportive of my (and our) journey.
Good fishing to you all.