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The Similarity of Differences

By GRANT EARICH

Peace Corps Response Antigua 2011–2012
Peace Corps Ukraine, 2006–2008

In the over fifty years of Peace Corps history, I imagine that I am one of the only Volunteers that has served in both one of the largest and smallest Peace Corps countries. I originally served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ukraine (2006-2008) and recently served with Peace Corps Response in Antigua and Barbuda (2011-2012). In Ukraine, we had roughly 350 Volunteers; while in Antigua and Barbuda, there were less than 10.  However, I found that the size of the Peace Corps program only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the differences between these two countries. 

There were the obvious differences between these countries--climate, culture, race, language and there were the smaller ones. In Ukraine, it is cold, the food is devoid of spices, the language can be challenging and the landscape is expansive.  In Antigua, you sweat when you sleep, the food is spicy, the language is familiar, and the landscape is miniscule.  From a tourist’s point of view, the two countries could not be more different.  But when you work for Peace Corps, you are not a tourist – you become a part of the country you serve.

When I arrived in the Eastern Caribbean, my initial thought was, “I’m not in Ukraine anymore.”  But as time passed, I realized that the differences were not as vast I originally assumed.  People worked, dogs barked, children played, and public transportation was unpredictable.  Furthermore, I recognized the most veiled similarities were actually the problems faced by both countries – rising inflation, insolvent governments, and HIV/AIDS education. 

Regardless of the differences, I felt more prepared for my Peace Corps Response service in Antigua and Barbuda due to the sheer fact that I had previously been faced with many of the same concerns.  I believe this is the most important fact that anyone about to begin Peace Corps Response has to undertake. Peace Corps and Peace Corps Response are similar, but not the same. 

Peace Corps Response is not necessarily easier than the two year program, but rather a shorter version. Peace Corps Response Volunteers are expected to bring their professional skills and experience to their assignments. I personally feel that my previous service in Ukraine prepared me for what to expect in Antigua and Barbuda.  While Volunteers are given support, Peace Corps Response Volunteers should be prepared for a rigorous, advanced level assignment with little-to-no technical or language training.  

Sometimes things we think are going to be extremely different, like an Eastern Caribbean country and an Eastern European country, can be a lot more similar than we expect.  And, conversely, the things that we think are going to be so similar, like Peace Corps and Peace Corps Response, can be incredibly different.

Last updated Sep 23 2014

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