By Jenni “z.e.a.l” Myung, Contributing Writer
In one month, I will be flying to Washington D.C. for my first ever business trip. In addition to relishing in what I imagine are the usual work trip perks (all expenses paid, single in a nice hotel, cushy per diem for all my meals), I will also be delighting in a few more simple pleasures:
- going into Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods and seeing, smelling and buying baskets on baskets of fresh fruit and produce,
- walking down the street without children screaming hello,
- encountering choices for nearly every single thing I could possibly imagine (“What kind of milk do I want in my chai latte? Which app should I use? Where should I eat?”),
- pumpkin spice and butternut squash.
You see, I’ll be flying halfway across the world for this business trip, and it’ll be my first time in the United States in over a year. After volunteering with AmeriCorps in Washington, D.C., I joined the Peace Corps and have been working in Mongolia as an English language educator and teaching consultant. The standard period for Peace Corps volunteer service is 27 months, and I’m halfway finished. Before I left for Mongolia, I set up a blog, so I could talk my way through this crazy new life and share it with curious friends and family back home. That blog is what is sending me to D.C. this fall, and for all the above reasons, I couldn’t be more thrilled!
People will always say the same about any experience that makes you live outside of your comfort zone, but life has been no picnic. I live with a constant language barrier, where even going to the butcher to buy meat can sometimes require a Mongolian chaperone. I struggle with loneliness, isolation and boredom on a regular basis, and there are things that I’ve had to give up in order to come here, like my love of fencing and fruit. While Peace Corps has great benefits during and post service, I live on a monthly living stipend equivalent of what an American high schooler might make at his or her part-time job.
But of course, I am not in this for the money. In the beginning, I wanted to be a part of Peace Corps for the adventure, the incredibly unique opportunity of living as a local in a foreign country and to serve as a cultural ambassador for the U.S.. And yet, the gains from my time here are have been priceless, nearly indescribable. I could go on about the relationships I’ve made or my personal growth during the past year, but here’s what I think will resonate most with my fellow, career-minded sisters who are trying to carve a space in this competitive world:
Don’t write off volunteer service as something that can’t help advance your career. As someone who was super unsure about what to do after graduation, I found that volunteering and long-term service work have given me the space I needed to discover and hone my skills. I was able to take on work I hadn’t proven myself in yet, like graphic design, program development and youth work, without the fear of complete failure.
Being a Peace Corps Volunteer means that you’re going to encounter failure or immense disappointment at some point. It sounds terrible, but it’ll be one of the most valuable blessings of your service. Peace Corps isn’t going to write you off as incompetent because the student camp you planned failed to launch. You don’t have to go home and fret about your reputation because the event you organized had a low turnout. As a volunteer, you’re allowed to make mistakes and missteps, and no one will think less of you. You are given the time to find your strengths and weaknesses, go through challenges, evolve as a professional and still come out as a highly appreciated contributor.
Living in a foreign country, far from friends and family, is not for everyone. For individuals thinking about that challenge or are looking for something new, consider Peace Corps, AmeriCorps or a similar program. It’s terrifying at first, but believe that you are capable of that first step forward. And then, the next and so on.
If you have any questions, feel free to contact me through my Peace Corps blog under About Me: jennifermyung.wordpress.com
Thanks for reading!
Jenni “z.e.a.l” Myung is a Peace Corps volunteer in Mongolia. She teaches English as a foreign language to children, from fifth to twelfth graders, methodology and curriculum development to Mongolian English teachers. She also does community work and event planning for her provincial town of 40,000 people. She graduated from Emory University in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in English literature and crossed in fall 2009 with her beloved Lambda class.