So I just finished filling out the Peace Corps' Volunteer Reporting Form for my first six months at site. Here are some highlights from the "Tell Your Story" tab:
I would say that I am "somewhat integrated," because I've only been here for six months. In my experience, integration is not something that can be rushed or hurried, lest it seem superficial or disingenuous. Even when it's between people who share cultural contexts, I think it's important to take time when developing new relationships. I have let toxic people into my life in the past, because I wasn't more discerning. As someone who experiences marginalization based on gender and sexuality, I also commit to this philosophy as a means for self-preservation.
Also important to note is that I visibly stand out as a "farang," and that's not going to change over the course of two years. I came into the Peace Corps knowing that would be the case. Despite feeling like an outsider (which is not new to me), this experience has given me the chance to reflect upon my own white, Euro-American privilege, both back in the States and here in Thailand, in unexpected and humbling ways.
I have experienced many challenges during these first nine months in Thailand. Since arriving here, I have had to make several adjustments related to nutrition, routines, transportation, and housing (to name a few). These have certainly provided me with some challenges, but by now, I feel pretty well adjusted to them.
Then, there are the challenges that are a bit more lasting, like feelings of loneliness and isolation. As an extrovert, I am not accustomed to finding my energy from within; I typically look to others. Not being able to nurture or pursue close friendships in my native tongue has been a big challenge I have faced at site. I know it's good for me to turn inward and focus on internal growth, so I'm trying to do that. It just doesn't come very naturally to me. I'm having to face some patterns and things about myself that are difficult to confront. This is one of the reasons why I chose to join the Peace Corps, as I tend to grow the most when I'm uncomfortable. Now that I have been at site for six months, I am starting to branch out and connect with more people more frequently. I've accepted the fact that my relationships won't be the same as the ones I've had in the past. Not better or worse; just different.
The language barrier has definitely been the biggest challenge by far. Throughout most of my life, I have lived in places where most people had some English proficiency. I love learning languages, so learning Thai has been a great experience for me. It's in my professional role that I feel the most challenged. Having thoughts and ideas that I am unable to articulate in the moment has proven to be super frustrating, and it has really affected my feelings of self-efficacy.
I enjoy working in teams and contributing to group projects, but it feels like a lot of my current work is self-started. I want my projects to be sustainable, so I'm trying to actively involve various stakeholders. It's just harder when they don't speak English. Anyways, I see this as being the most persistent challenge, which is why I will continue my language learning until the day I end my service.
I have learned many lessons thus far in my service. I have learned that my community is wise and compassionate. That their generosity knows no bounds. I have learned that I have to earn their trust. That they want to see me succeed. I have learned that they are imperfect and make mistakes, just like me. That they like to laugh and have fun. I have learned that they value age, experience, tradition, and ritual. I have also learned that they are open to gender and sexual diversity.
I have learned to be more patient, with others and with myself. I have learned that having deep conversations is something that I value a lot. I have learned that I appreciate certain urban amenities more than I'd like to admit. At the same time, I've learned that I can go without a lot more than I thought. I have learned that I can do hard things, and I actually like doing hard things. I've also learned that I have a lot more growth ahead of me.