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The truth about FOMO as a Peace Corps Volunteer

The learners at the primary school in my village prepare for a dance competition.

As a college student, I made sure I never missed out on anything.

Going to parties, football games, university events, movies, spring break trips — you name it, I was probably there. 

Then I joined the Peace Corps.

After a weeklong permagardening workshop, I decided to take my skills to implement a demonstration garden on my homestead.
After a weeklong permagardening workshop, I decided to take my skills to implement a demonstration garden on my homestead.

27 months away from my close family and friends.

27 months of missing out on life events such as birthdays, anniversaries, graduations and other significant milestones.

Besides many trivial things I am missing back stateside during my time in Namibia, these are real things. These are times I can’t get back or recreate. These are times I couldn’t prepare myself for prior to leaving for service, although I did try.

It has become so easy for me, and I am sure for other expats, to dwell on everything we’re missing at home. Recently, my friend Carrie challenged me to think of things I would be missing if I chose to not come to Namibia. With a little bit of thought, here I go:

1. Making Lifelong Friends

I mean, I could make lifelong friends any time or place, but in April of last year, I began a journey with Volunteers who will always just “get it” and “get me.” Volunteers from all over the States who will appreciate what it takes to be a Volunteer. I have made friends who continue to challenge me, support me and relate to me on a daily basis. In addition, I have gained friends from Namibia — Peace Corps staff, colleagues, host families and neighbors. Being a Volunteer in Namibia means gaining a family, that’s for sure.

2. Learning a New Language and About a New Culture

Why would I want to relearn French when I can learn Oshikwanyama? Each and every day, I learn new things about a culture I would have never known about without taking the leap to travel outside the borders of my own.

My host siblings and I using extra equipment found around our homestead to create a fence for our soon to be garden.
My host siblings and I using extra equipment found around our homestead to create a fence for our soon-to-be garden.

3. Traveling to New Countries

Before Namibia, the only stamp in my passport was from Mexico. I have never been an avid traveler, but by the end of my service I will have a handful (or two) of stamps added to my collection.

    4. Discovering New Skills and Hobbies

    I taught myself to hand embroider. I’ve practiced more of my calligraphy and doodling (yes, there’s an art to doodling). I made my own sourdough bread and reignited my love of gardening. Yes, the life of a Volunteer is hectic, but I also have a lot more downtime than I have ever had (or will ever have again). Watching movies and TV shows gets old, so learning something new is never a bad idea.

      5. Strengthening Old Relationships

      Although I am thousands of miles away, there is something about distance that helps strengthen relationships. Being away from family and friends has allowed me to make more decisions about me, and what makes my life meaningful and fulfilling without other people’s anxieties and emotions influencing them. I have gained a greater sense of independence and realized more of my ability to do things (and do them well) on my own. Distance has made me better at planning communication with people back home while also determining which relationships have been worth sustaining in my time away.

      My host siblings are teaching me how to pound mahangu. It's a lot hard than it looks.
      My host siblings are teaching me how to pound mahangu. It's a lot hard than it looks.

      6. Increasing Knowledge and Skills for Future Endeavors

      The Peace Corps offered an opportunity to change my career path while gaining two years of hands-on experience. I have also had the ability to acquire knowledge and refine skills that may make me more marketable post-Peace Corps. Granted, there is still plenty of time between now and COS (close of service), but these are still important things to consider.

      7. Realizing How Much “Grit” I Have and How to Survive on Less 

      Endurance. Passion. Excellence. Courage. Perseverance.

      I don’t think I truly knew what grit was until I joined the Peace Corps. But I’m positive that I have had it interwoven in my personal makeup my entire life. 

      Many days are disappointing. Many days I must revisit the drawing board. In all of the unpredictability, these things are predictable. So, why do I do this? Why am I still here? 

      Grit. That’s the only way to explain it. I have the desire and need to achieve and love the feeling of accomplishing a long-term goal. Yes, enduring a variety of hardships in my living and working environments may not be for the faint of spirit, but in a crazy way, having grit breathes life into me.

      Also, no promises that I won’t try to serve lentils 101 ways after the Peace Corps, but living minimal really makes you think about what is important in life and what brings true happiness (the secret: it’s not things).

      So, with all the FOMO, there is a joy to be gained — JOMO, if you will (I didn’t make this up). I’ve found joy in having time to get to know myself absent of fears and anxiety. Even if I am missing milestones back home, there are so many experiences I am gaining here. With more one year of service to go, I continue to look forward to the months ahead.