Two years in Jamaica: Words of wisdom for new PCVs

Two years in Jamaica: words of wisdom for new PCVs
By Jedd and Michelle Chang
March 31, 2014

We’ve started to hear from the incoming group of Volunteers who are starting their training for Jamaica in this month. It’s an exciting time for them.

When we were in their shoes, we were soaking up all the information we could find about Peace Corps in Jamaica. Being less than five months away from our departure, there are inevitably a good number of lessons we’ve learned on our journey.

Many of these thoughts were shared with us when we first arrived in Jamaica, and we hope they can help the next generation of Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs). Here are some words of wisdom from past PCVs and our own advice for new Volunteers:

From past PCVs:

  • Take a moment every now and then to remember that your job is to live, learn and build relationships in another culture with the freedom to explore new things. For most people, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
  • Saying “Ahhright,” smiling and waving can get you out of awkward moments or out of having to talk to a stranger you’d rather not speak to. It’s also an acceptable response to most statements and questions you don’t understand.
  • Sometimes, doing your laundry will be the most productive thing you do in a day. Learn how to celebrate the simple things.
  • Rehearse the mantra, “I will empower, I will not enable.” Many Volunteers try to do too much or complete aspects of a project that should be done by a counterpart. Don’t forget, as a PCV you should be working yourself out of a job, not into one.
  • Keep in mind that everything you do or say leaves a permanent impression about Americans.
  • Work and daily life here can be simply draining. Find something every month that you can look forward to and that restores you or gives you a change of pace.

Our advice:

  • People will tell you “don’t have expectations.” If, like me, you find that to be impossible, try expanding your expectations to a very wide range of possibilities. You may be in a big town with traffic, internet and an apartment with an uninvolved landlord. Alternatively, you may be in the bush with no running water and share an outhouse with your seven host family members. Are you prepared to “bloom where you are planted”?
  • “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Everyone has their own, unique Peace Corps experience and each is valid in its own way. Comparing your work, accomplishments, and site to other Volunteers is only going to bring you down.
  • Just because a majority of Volunteers have a certain amenity does not mean you are entitled to it. We are lucky to have Peace Corps staff that does their best to accommodate our preferences, but still, come willing and open.
  • Always check the inside of your shoes before you put them on your feet. You never know when a roach or spider will decide to snuggle up in your toe box. I’ve been rewarded by this habit a number of times.
  • If you have a choice of seats on a cross-country bus ride, take the second bench. It has more legroom than the first and fourth rows and you’ll get wiggle room more often.
  • Any food items that are not sealed in glass or aluminum should be stored in your fridge. This will prevent loss due to ants, mice and other pests. Also, get a sealable container that can fit your utensils – don’t let them sit open or in a drawer where things can poop on them.

Jedd and Michelle Chang