50 Tips in 50 Days

In commemoration of Peace Corps' 50th Anniversay [link], over the next 50 days, I will be posting 50 Tips for potential Az9s...heck, for future Peace Corps Volunteers.

Tip 50: Pack a stash of good pens. It pays off to be able to actually write without having to lick the tip of the pen 10 times (tastes gross...).

Tip 49: A small compressible sleeping bag goes a long way. Trust me, traveling with the one Peace Corps gives you blows. Oh, and don't forget the bag liners...

Tip 48: Don't give up coffee. Too much stress - too few comforts - it's just not worth it. Instead, pack a single serving french press, 2 lbs of ground coffee, and convince your ma to send you tri-monthly coffee installments. You will be happier.

Tip 47: Convince your dad to buy you a Gerber (or Leatherman or Swiss). If you pack nothing else, pack this. Not only will you use it to fix all the crap that will eventually break, but you can open wine bottles, tighten your glasses' screws, and probably kill a man...or a squirrel (guest tip by Jessica).

Tip 46: Don't freak out about that scary, "A decision has been reached regarding your medical review" email. Whoever wrote it really wasn't conscientious of how badly it could be taken...but it don't mean a thing. You're fine. You're fine.

Tip 45: It's okay to bend the truth. Obviously, you wouldn't rush up to a barely known acquaintance and share your entire life story, why would you with a HCN (Host Country National)? There are pieces of my life that cannot be explained in a thirty minute snippet, so I just do not talk about them and that's okay.

Tip 44: Pack two years' worth of underpants (and socks). Handwashing is hard on clothes and underpants aren't something you want to be picking up in your local bazaar. Plus, they probably won't have your color...

Tip 43: Don't forget Peace Corps has 3 goals. Just because you are not hand digging a well does not mean you aren't doing something worthwhile.

Tip 42: Even if they've got Snickers bars, it doesn't mean they taste the same as the ones from home...

Tip 41: It is okay to veg-out and take "stay-cations". Nobody was meant to work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Tip 40: Fill some of that extra packing space with crosswords or sudokus. Books get too "heavy", language practice gets overwhelming, and you can only watch so much television programming.

Tip 39: Patience is a virtue - simple saying, lots of meaning. There is a reason Peace Corps service is 2 years...and it is not because 2 just sounds like an awesome number.

Tip 38: PCV DISCOUNTS [link]! Don't start buying stuff without checking out your potential discounts. Trust me, every penny counts when you are trying to prepare for PC service (and subsequently save money for a little vaycay action!)

Tip 37: You don't have to like everybody and that's okay.

Tip 36: For some reason, you are gonna spend a day oscillating on whether you should bring a computer. Save a day, bring the computer.

Tip 35: Bring a huge external hard drive.

Tip 34: And a couple "throw away" thumb drives.

Tip 33: Don't be afraid to "be yourself" (within reason). The idea is cultural exchange, not cultural assimilation. Share who you are, but be safe doing so.

Tip 32: Developing relationships within Peace Corps is just as important as the relationships you have with Host Country Nationals.

Tip 31: If you like that name brand Aleve or specific type of antacid, bring it. Just because you have health coverage does not mean your favorite meds are included.

Tip 30: Everybody gets ringworm. It really is not that gross.

Tip 29: Junk novels. Seriously. I am sitting in my apartment right now and I have several economic commentary books, textbooks and a plethora of young adult novels. I am so over sitcoms and I do not want to suffer through a 2 hour movie. A good ole junk novel would be perfect right now.

Tip 28: You are gonna be misunderstood. It sucks, I know, but get ready to spend the next 2 years being misquoted, misrepresented, and pigeon-holed. People at home don't get what you are going through and Host Country Nationals aren't gonna understand your particular thought-processes until they get to know you (and even then, it is not always you you).

Tip 27: Boil your water.

Tip 26: Bring a stain stick. I cannot tell you how many times my good ole Shout has saved me from hours of scrubbing and washing!

Tip 25: Be prepared to shower less. Maybe it's just that we are overly anal retentive about cleanliness, but Americans shower a lot. Personally, it does not bother me too much (I spent ten years at or near a pool. I am happy to be dry for awhile), but you may want to invest in baby wipes.

Tip 24: During your language training, pay special attention to the "what is Peace Corps?" section. Most Host Country Nationals have never heard to Peace Corps, let alone have any idea why a random American chose their home to live in. Trying to explain this is difficult. Take a day and practice explaining Peace Corps, a simplified version of recruitment, and how you ended up in that particular spot.

Tip 23: I love my REI tin cup and spork.

Tip 22: If you are an exerciser, build it into your lifestyle. It may not be feasible to go on a 5K run, but take up yoga, bring a Jane Fonda dvd, anything because you will go stir-crazy if you cannot work up a little sweat.

Tip 21: There is a big difference between socially unacceptable and "out of the ordinary". Figuring out where that line is in your community is pretty important. It may be socially unacceptable for me to be walking around with a boy, but it is simply "out of the ordinary" for me to lead a boys-only conversation club.

Tip 20: Bring a small sewing kit.

Tip 19: Accept invitations. Even on the days where you would rather sit at home and marathon Dexter, spending an evening with Host Country Nationals fulfills Goal #2, you get a free meal, and you probably will walk away with a story.

Tip 18: If you aren't comfortable, don't do it! Silently accepting "it" as cultural assimilation is not cultural assimilation. People will respect you for being honest and explaining why it is uncomfortable you (guest tip by Myriam!).

Tip 17: Keep your style. It is easy to get scared by all the Peace Corps paperwork, but this does not mean you have give up how you express yourself (i.e. wearing a little bit o' orange everyday). I moderate-ized my attire, but it is still essentially me.

Tip 16: Back everything up. You will thank me when your computer dies.

Tip 15: A big day backpack is totally worth it.

Tip 14: Your life is now a fishbowl. Get ready for little to no privacy and we ain't just talking about you in your future host community, but you on the 'nets, in the papers, and even the emails you write.

Tip 13: Bring a sleeping mouth-guard. It seems that everybody ends up grinding their teeth.

Tip 12: If you are leaving stuff at home, organize it for easy access. Inevitably, you are gonna want your favorite sweater and having your dad (or ma) rummage through all your stuff may get frustrating.

Tip 11: Write a living will, last will and testament, and leave a power of attorney. It is the only responsible thing to do.

Tip 10: This experience is not for everybody.

Tip 9: Nobody is comfortable during PST. You are so out of your comfort zone that you are gonna revert to old habits, cry at the most inane things, and think about quitting every once in awhile. This is normal. You are normal. Deep breaths and commence with the bonding.

Tip 8: Think big expect small (guest tip by Micah).

Tip 7: Accessorize. It breaks up the black.

Tip 6: It is okay to wear your headphones on a bus. You are  gonna feel pressure to constantly interact with locals (especially those who want to practice their English). If you feel like it, do it. If you do not, politely (but firmly) say thanks but no thanks and pop those earbuds in.

Tip 5: Everyday is an emotional day. I stock chocolate. What's your vice?

Tip 4: Your Director, Police Chief, Post Office Lady has no idea who you are. Explaining why yourself (and why you are there) over and over again is just part of the process. If you constantly call on Peace Corps HQ, your integration into your new home is going to take forever.

Tip 3: There are gender rules and cultural norms that are going to seem pointless and annoying at first. Abide by them before you break them (if you ever do).

Tip 2: It is easy to get caught up in the "politics" of Peace Corps, but ultimately, it was you who decided to dedicate two years of your life to service. It is hard to serve others when you yourself are unhappy. If you don't want to teach English, don't do it. If you really dislike eggplant, tell your host mom. If you need direction, make a plan with your counterpart. Being unhappy for two years should never be an option.

Tip 1: Once you are a PCV, you will always be a PCV (or more accurately, an RPCV).

That's it folks!

What is Peace Corps?
Peace Corps is an independent U.S. government agency that provides Volunteers to countries requesting assistance around the world. The agency traces its roots and mission to 1960, when then-Senator John F. Kennedy challenged students at the University of Michigan to serve their country in the cause of peace by living and working in developing countries.
Creation of the program was spearheaded by President Kennedy's brother-in-law Sargent Shriver [link]. Sargent Shriver, the founder and first Director of Peace Corps, earned many accolades during his life time, including a Purple Heart and the Medal of Freedom. He died on January 18, 2011.
How many countries has Peace Corps been in?
How many countries is Peace Corps currently in?
Lay down the stats, yo:
60% women, 40% men
93% single, 7 % married
19% minorities
7% over the age of 50, average age: 28
90% have at least an undergraduate degree

5% in Youth Development
5% in Agriculture
13% in Environment
14% in Business Development
22% in  Health & AIDS/HIV
37% in Education
5% in "other"

37% in Africa
24% in Latin America
21% in Eastern Europe & Central Asia
7% in Asia
4% in North Africa/ Middle East
3% in Pacific Islands
5% in Caribbean
One big stat: Nearly 200,000 Americans served
Information taken from Peace Corps website [link] October 28, 2010.