Part of my Peace Corps service in the Eastern Caribbean included 5 weeks of Pre-Service Training on the island of St. Lucia. I was 24 and this was my first–and to date, only–experience living outside of the United States. The 70+ members of EC58, who after training would disburse to Antigua, Dominica, Grenada, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, St. Kitts & Nevis or remain on St. Lucia, were primarily in Education or Business Development programs. We stayed with homestay families and spent our weekdays, Monday through Friday, at training sites, learning about the culture, histories, customs, and the peoples of the Caribbean as well as training in our respective programs. This was an exciting, colourful, and extremely memorable 5 weeks of my life. Everything was new and exciting.
I remember my wonderful homestay family, the Steeles, and having Mrs. Steele’s bedroom as mine, with its attached bathroom which I didn’t share with anyone in the family. Mr. Steele specifically built this room for Mrs. Steele, but also so that PCVs in training could stay with them during summer training. I am sure the small amount that Peace Corps paid families for housing more than paid for the edition to the house.
I remember as part of our training, working with very sweet and disciplined St. Lucian students in a model school. I also remember wrestling with the idea of my being assigned the role of ‘teacher-trainer’ when I hadn’t even yet put in a year as a full-time teacher.
I remember Betty, who was this amazing 80-year-old volunteer with more energy than those of us who were in our 20s.
I remember fun nights of karaoke at Gros Islet and cookouts at the beach.
I remember touring this beautiful island with new friends, the kind of friends who it turns out will weave in and out of your life from then on.
I also remember that a number of trainees left within the first couple of weeks of training and didn’t make it to the swearing-in ceremony, because the experience of Peace Corps in the Eastern Caribbean wasn’t what they expected or they had left the love of their life at home or they just couldn’t follow through on their PC commitment. I remember one trainee having a particularly hard time adjusting to the new experience of PC on St. Lucia, a middle-aged fellow trainee who had been a Peace Corps Volunteer in Sri Lanka while she was in her 20s. Her frame of reference and what she compared everything to was Sri Lanka. 25 years later, I still hear her distinct voice:
“Well, in Sri Lanka, we trained this way.”
“Well, when I lived in Sri Lanka, the local people did this.”
“Well, in Sri Lanka, we didn’t have this and we had to eat that.”
To this woman, her PC experience in Sri Lanka was superior to her experience in the Eastern Caribbean and she was never able to overcome that bias. She made it through training, but she left within our first year. Because of her prior experience and the bias that resulted, she ended up negating her PC EC experience and I remember her being very unhappy. However, she was not only negating her PC EC experience–instead, it felt to me as if she was negating the experiences of the rest of the group. Everything about the EC PC experience seemed to be sub-standard, including her fellow PC trainees and she just couldn’t connect to the experience at hand.
For me, that experience of having a new work situation compared by one person to a prior work and life situation–and having the new situation in turn negated–has stuck with me these more than 25 years. I have tried to avoid situations where I end up feeling stuck or that my expectations are totally out of proportion to the new reality. When I find I am in a situation where I’m not growing or am especially frustrated and being a Little Miss Negativity, I try to own some self-awareness and push myself to recognize that I’m in a negative space, reminding myself that my toxic attitude is also impacting others. I have to decide, is the situation worth making the best of or is it time to move on?
I’ve recently found myself complaining and comparing in a very negative way in regards to work. I’ve caught myself at least thinking, if not verbalizing, “well when I taught in NOLA, I had my own classroom and planning time and only worked an 8 hour day…” or “when I advised at a certain West Coast university, I advised students who were serious about their coursework” or “at least at my prior school, I was able to really delve into and teach topics that interested me.”
I have some choices to make.