From Strangers to Family: A Journey of Community Integration

By Marbrisa Flores (PCV in La Libertad)
Feb. 14, 2024

It’s been nearly a year since I swore in as a Peace Corps volunteer, and looking back I remember the terror I felt when I arrived at my site and realized I was about to spend my days with strangers whom I now consider family. When I arrived in, my site located in the region of La Libertad, I was excited and grateful to start my service as a Peace Corps volunteer, but I was also hit with a deep sense of loneliness and fear -- this was it. The last 3 months I spent in training bonding deeply with other volunteers was over and I was now moving in with a lovely family but strangers nonetheless far away from all of my friends.

volunteer shows her wounds

At first, my interactions with my host family were limited to meal time conversations after which I’d often retreat to the solitude of my room. No one in the community knew me yet, I didn’t have any friends or acquaintances, and while I knew it was part of the process of integrating , I still felt very sad and would find myself questioning my decision to serve for two years and missing my life before the Peace Corps.

However, slowly but surely I naturally began integrating more, getting recognized around the community, and saying yes to more spontaneity. I began getting more comfortable with my host family, neighbors, and the rest of the community.

One early experience of bonding with my host family was an incredibly embarrassing and humorous moment. One Saturday morning, I went for my morning run at the local soccer field. During my run, the Patrulla Juvenil or the “youth patrol,” a local youth group led by the police department, arrived as well to do sports. Some of the kids said hi to me as I ran by them continuing to do my laps. Once I was done, I went to greet the police officers and the students. The police officer said to me “I didn't know you liked to run” to which I responded by sharing about my passion for running in an attempt to share my enthusiasm for their work with youth. I shared that I ran the LA marathon as a teenager and about how running was a positive outlet for me in my youth and thus how important I know their work with the kids is when it comes to engaging them in sports.

shows volunteer been healing

Suddenly, two of the kids shot up and yelled, “we’ll race you!” I had just finished my run and my legs were very tired but still feeling tingly from the adrenaline. I thought to myself, “well I can’t say no because I just boasted about my running achievements when I was their age so I’ll be embarrassed if I don’t accept this challenge. But I’ll also be embarrassed if I race them and lose so I have to say yes AND win the race. . And so the race began. All the kids cheered and even the police officers yelled “USA versus Peru!” Determined not to lose, I ran as fast as I could. So fast that I couldn’t even feel my legs anymore, legs that were already so tired from having just run a long distance. I was in the lead, confident that I would win. And I pushed even harder on the uneven and loose rocky dirt as we neared the finish line. As I reached the end, I lost complete control. My legs failed me and I watched myself in slow motion completely face planting on the ground and scraping my knees, shins, elbows, hands, and nose.

The police officers ran to my rescue and ALL ATTENTION WAS ON ME -- the police, the kids, the families in the stands, everyone! I was soooo embarrassed so what do you do when you’re embarrassed?You play it off as casually as possible of course! I said, “yea yea I’m ok, that’s just how I run because I’m super-fast. I’m used to that.” I put a smile on my face as I said goodbye and reminded the kids that I got to the finish line first even if by face planting past it! I nodded to my host brother to head out and as soon as we exited the stadium, the tears I was holding started bawling out!! I was in so much pain and was finally free to show it without the embarrassment factor of showing it in front of everyone. I started crying and my little 12-year-old host brother was frazzled, unsure of how to help me but still got me home.

My host mom was shocked when she saw me walk in the door! I was scraped up everywhere. My left palm was bleeding from a small rock that penetrated my skin when I hit the ground. I was fully covered in dirt and looked like an absolute wreck! My host mom pulled out the alcohol to clean my wounds and I wailed in fear because I knew it would burn! They sat me down at the kitchen table and my host mom sprayed alcohol on my wounds while my host brother blew air to help with the sting. I was fully in tears, embarrassed to be crying in front of my family whom i yet don’t have the closest relationship with but this is a big moment for our bonding because what better way to bond than to be in such a vulnerable position!

volunteer with her host family

After the pain had calmed down, the humor began. My host brother began teasing me about the situation and I jokingly claimed that I would never step foot outside of the house because of how embarrassed I was. After two days; however, I had to come out of my shell. Now, when the police see me they yell, “USA, USA, USA” because even though I face planted, I definitely won. And when the kids see me, they yell “Wanna race?” So while I’m known by many to be the volunteer who face planted in a race against teenage boys, I’m also the person who can laugh about it and use it as an opportunity to have bonded with my host family, some of the youth, and my counterparts at the police station. We’re on a joking basis now from that incident and now that I’ve healed from all the scrapes and bruises, I can say I’m grateful for this landmark of a moment that played a major role in my community and host family integration.