Keeping it Real: Making Progress in my Life Journey
Juanita Limas, Nicaragua 2000–2002
Since my return from serving in Nicaragua, I have made it a point to give a presentation to students about the Peace Corps at least during Peace Corps Week each year. However, this year, some unique opportunities presented themselves. Asked to speak about my career at a forum for minority professionals at a local high school, I inquired whether I could do the talk during Peace Corps Week and focus on being a returned Volunteer—in particular, a minority Peace Corps Volunteer. It was a great opportunity to talk to students about the Peace Corps and, at the same time, about being a minority.
During that week a local radio station affiliated with the University of Iowa was hosting a radio talk show that featured local returned Peace Corps Volunteers. I was asked to participate. The panel of three Volunteers—two men and I—spoke about our experiences and fielded questions from the audience. I enjoyed listening to the other Volunteers' experiences and how they adapted, as well as sharing my own experiences of culture shock, reverse culture shock upon returning to the United States, and my "Ah-ha!" moments. Reaching more than 30,000 listeners across Iowa, it was a terrific way to get the word out about how important the role of the Peace Corps is—more so today than ever.
At the end of the academic year, I was asked again to give a short presentation at the University of Iowa on my experiences in the Peace Corps. Prospective Volunteers who have received their assignments are given a send-off celebration, attended by former Volunteers and recruiters from the Minneapolis regional office. We split up the presentation: one returned Volunteer spoke about the application process, one spoke about training, one spoke about the first year, one spoke about the second year, and one spoke about close of service and life after the Peace Corps. My presentation was on Year 1, which, I believe, was the toughest part of my Peace Corps experience. It was a great opportunity to reach prospective applicants, because the event was open to the public. Local media were there and followed up with a front-page story that week about the Peace Corps. I was asked to submit some photos of my site and speak to a reporter about why I joined the Peace Corps, what I learned (always a tough question!), and more.
In doing these various activities, I have learned a great deal about presenting the Peace Corps concept. First and foremost, although each returned Volunteer could go on for days about a particular site, host country, job assignment, and so forth, people here in the United States are more interested in how I can use what I learned overseas in my post-Peace Corps life. Second, I learned to select which parts of my experience would be most applicable and helpful to my audience. For example, when I spoke during Peace Corps Week to minority high school students, they weren't as interested in all my vaccination campaigns as in how students their age looked and what they did. I was frequently asked questions about Nicaraguan high school students and what their goals and dreams were. In contrast, the audience at the radio panel were adults who were much more interested in safety issues, my culture shock experiences, my "Ah-ha!" moments, and such. It's important to know your audience and tailor your presentation accordingly.
At the same time, I always have a theme or main idea that I try to hammer in. For example, I stress the importance of having minority Volunteers in the Peace Corps. Most people may not understand that, until I explain the role of the Peace Corps and the importance of having the Peace Corps reflect what our society looks like. It also helps dispel stereotypes and break down barriers.
Speaking to community groups about the Peace Corps not only provides an outlet for me to continue reliving my experience in Nicaragua, but it also benefits others who may not know about the Peace Corps or understand what it does. We live in a society and a world that are very different from the one I left in 2000 when I embarked on my journey as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I came back in 2002 feeling like two years of my life had been cut out of my past. Because of these changing times, the role of the Peace Corps is much more important than ever before, which is why the third goal of the Peace Corps—to help Americans understand others—has become an instinctive part of my life.
Last updated Jan 22 2013
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