Well…over two years has ticked by, and we never provided a conclusion to this blog. In our defense, the end of our Peace Corps service seemed sudden, and we hit the ground running back in the States. I will briefly describe two things here: the end of our service, and what we think now looking back on our Peace Corps experience.
- We left the Dominican Republic in May 2013 after the very hectic process of exiting Peace Corps.
- We travelled in the Caribbean, spent time in California with family, bought a car, and drove up to Seattle. I had a job lined up in Pierce County to facilitate an economic development collaborative. We arrived in Seattle in June 20th and I began working on June 24th.
- Kristy began her Master’s in Public Administration program at the University of Washington, and we rented a little cottage on a quiet lake to work through reverse culture shock.
- In December 2013 we learned Kristy was pregnant, and on August 28th 2014 Bruce Richard Humphreys was born. He’s awesome. We’ve been quite busy working, studying, and parenting.
- The Seahawks won the Super Bowl. That didn’t suck.
- In March 2015 we bought a home in Tacoma, and Kristy will finish her master’s program by the end of this year.
- We plan to remain in Tacoma, at least for a while before considering another international adventure.
- We also recently started a nonprofit organization, the Tahoma Collaboratory, but it’s too new to share about here. (Tahoma Collaboratory)
So…in all that we let the blog slip. Better late than never I suppose.
Having been working in collaborative community and economic development for two years post-PC service, let me share a few thoughts.
We’re in the stage where it’s easy to romanticize our service. We were ready to leave at the end of three years, but it did not take much time to begin longing for the slower pace of life, communal living, the connection with a network of like-minded peers, and little need for private transportation. While I’m writing this I’m listening to Dominican music and thinking about the beach in Juan Dolio. Fortunately, we feel like we took full advantage of our time there, so we have no regrets.
Outside of romanticism, we would absolutely do Peace Corps all over again. It was an incredibly challenging, yet rewarding and exciting experience. One of the greatest challenges of living and working in the US post-PC is the pervasive fear of failure. Peace Corps service, and international work in general, is based on embracing failure. No one shows up to meetings, your language skills are subpar, you tackle challenges you’re not equipped to overcome when you start. But you persevere and learn to be productive while maintaining the integrity of cross-cultural relationships. For the past two years I have been working with politicians and leaders who fear change, and openly antagonize anything that threatens the illusion that they have all the answers. And it does not seem isolated to our community.
Returned Peace Corps Volunteers…
When I run into other RPCV’s, we trade stories and are reminded we’re not crazy. We really did live in a world where a community of professionals took risks together and made sacrifices to plant seeds of change in a community. That same skill set seems desperately needed in the American community and work culture these days if we can build the right capacity and infrastructure to put it to work.
I am increasingly convinced the single most important element to either compromise or unleash the value of people like RPCV’s is leadership. Selfish, fearful, incompetent, and/or insecure leaders want simple-sounding solutions that require little risk. That type of leadership infuriates experienced international development professionals who know better, but in many communities it is the predominant leadership style. Adaptable, “flat”, communication-oriented, transparent, mission/community-centric leadership incites loyalty and enthusiasm that might give us a shot at overcoming our complex community and economic American challenges.
I also found myself quite flawed for a while. In international development you pursue impact with no formal structure. The US is saturated with formal, expensive structure and policy. People were irate when I didn’t produce agendas for even the most informal meetings. Then again, I have found agendas to be quite useful in making meetings productive.
All in all, we chose to put down roots back in the US because the skills developed by international service are increasingly required at home. As globalization accelerates, our country is struggling to adjust to its new role in the world and embrace the opportunities that should come with doing so. RPCV’s, flawed as we are, can play an important role in proactively navigating that transition.
So, if you’re up for it, compete to join the Peace Corps, commit to serving well, and stay for at least 27 months.