The day before yesterday I decided to shoot an email to my placement officer to wish him a happy New Year and let him know I am still advancing my Spanish using Rosetta Stone (and also to remind him that I am alive and waiting!). As has happened to me previously with the Peace Corps, the day after I sent the email, things got moving. I find myself wondering if they do this on purpose to find applicants who are highly motivated, go-getter type people as these are qualities that will be vital once in service.
Anyway, the following day I was enjoying a 65 degree and sunny day at the Phoenix Zoo with my sister using a program called the “Culture Pass” through the public library (check it out to see if your city has this program–you can visit museums, zoos, science centers, etc. for free!) when I received an email from a new placement officer that read:
Thanks for your email. Your file was shared with me by my colleague, (previous placement officer). I will be working with you to finalize your placement.
I would like to consider you for a Primary level Teacher Trainer program in the Central/South America region departing in August 2012.
This a an early generation program – meaning that Peace Corps just recently reentered. Because of this I would like to know the following:
a. Are you comfortable serving as perhaps the first volunteer in your community?
b. Peace Corps – although it has established a number of partnerships in this country, it is still garnering partnerships and establishing itself in-country. Do you feel you possess the patience and flexibility that is required to handle the ambiguity this can create?
c. Do consider yourself a self-starter? Are you comfortable with the majority of your work perhaps having to do with establishing relationships in your community as opposed to producing tangible results? In essence this would be laying the groundwork for volunteers to come.
If you are not interested in being considered for this program, there are several other options in other regions departing between July – September 2012.
Immediately a million things began to run through my mind. Unfortunately my very first thought was somewhat negative and I felt my heart sink. From all of my obsessive research of all things Peace Corps, I had a feeling I might know which country she was speaking of. Of course, the placement officer can’t tell you the country until the invitation comes in the mail, so this is just speculation. The only country that has been recently reentered in Central/South America is one of two places my parents had expressed serious concerns about when this process first started. I felt the blood drain from my face when I realized that in September of 2010 the Peace Corps reentered Colombia, South America after having closed the program for 30 years prior. There was no way my parents would let me move to Colombia.
My sister reminded me not to jump to conclusions. First of all, I am just guessing about the country. Second of all, I needed to talk to my parents. If I hadn’t given them the benefit of the doubt before I wouldn’t be here now because I never thought they would go for the Peace Corps in the first place. I gave my parents a call and shared the email and my thoughts. They didn’t say much except that we could talk later. Gulp.
When I got home I ran straight to the computer to look at every country the Peace Corps works with in Central and South America and the close and open dates of each program. The Peace Corps started in the 1960’s and since that time they have closed programs in various countries due to civil unrest, violence, drug trade, etc. Some countries have been reopened when Peace Corps completed a review and decided it was safe to place volunteers again, others have remained closed. The program in Colombia opened in the 1960’s and was closed in 1981 due to growing violence and drug related problems in the country. In September of 2010 they reopened the program. They sent a small group of Peace Corps Response volunteers to begin restablishing the Peace Corps in the country. Since then one more group of 23 TEFL volunteers have been placed in Colombia. While Colombia has a much more stable financial situation than the rest of Latin America, they have one of the largest gaps between rich and poor. They use a system of numbers 1-6 to identify citizens financial situation. The 4-6 groups are very wealthy, live in large cities, children attend private school, etc. The 1-3 range from poverty to extreme poverty, children go to poorly resourced public schools, they live in smaller towns, etc. Colombia appears to be much more urbanized than many of the other Central/South American countries, but there is no guarantee I would be placed in a large city (or that I will definitely go to Colombia, remember, I am just guessing).
As I was doing a little research about the country (I, like many probably, know very little about Colombia as it is not somewhere many people have traveled in recent decades) my Dad walked into the room and gave me a hug. I asked what it was for and he said “We love you and support you no matter where you are going or what you are doing, even if it is Colombia.” I almost fainted. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. In a million years I never would have dreamed my parents would support this, and here was my Dad basically giving me his blessing. I have never felt so blessed to have the loving, supportive parents that I have. My parents both came in and I read them the email and shared some of the information I had found online about why I suspect Colombia and info about the country.
Of course my parents (and I!) have some concerns if I do in fact get invited to Colombia. The U.S. Department of State still lists Colombia on their list of high risk countries and places to which you should avoid travel. However, the Peace Corps would not place volunteers anywhere that there was too great of a risk. Even though they have reentered the country, they are likely not placing volunteers in all areas at this point.
We decided that I will email my placement officer back and let her know I am comfortable with everything she described and how important it is to me to be placed in Central/South America and I wouldn’t want to take the risk of waiting for another placement and having it be in a different region. I think that I do possess the qualities necessary to be the first volunteer in a site. This means that there will not be relationships and programs established prior to my arrival and the people in my town may not have ever experienced a volunteer before. I embrace this challenge with open arms.
That’s all for now! I will be speaking with my placement officer and will post when I have more information!
Paz y amor, Katie