Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You: Just a Few Things I Learned in the Peace Corps

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  • Never do anything on your own. You should always have a host country national helping you and learning from anything that you do. Even something as simple as entering numbers into a spreadsheet, responding to daily e-mails, and definitely grant writing–an hcn (host country national) should always be with you and learning from what you do. Second, when it comes to HIV/AIDS and Women’s Empowerment it is absolutely crucial that you study up on the local customs, practices, and taboos. For example, for a male to talk about condom use in front of a group of women might be totally inappropriate. Especially when talking about potentially taboo subjects, it is better to have a local make the presentation or to be alongside of you to help with any potential miscommunication.
  • Don’t expect for things to get done on time. Try to set realistic expectations as to what you and your partners can actually accomplish in a given time frame. During your first week, carefully observe the people that you work with and try to gauge who is the most reliable and can be tasked with time sensitive material. Just because someone says they can do it, doesn’t mean that they can. And be sure to give people positive reinforcement when they complete good work. Also, when dealing with hcn partners who might not be holding up their end of the work, try to remind them how important their work is the completion of the project and how valuable they are as a team member. I find that ego-boosting goes a long way when people aren’t following through!! Telling them that they’re not doing what they’re supposed to do never got me anywhere.
  • Talk to anyone and everyone–from the local town leaders, to the bread man, to the women’s cooperative, to the plumber. Even people that don’t seem that important can sometimes be the ones who might share invaluable information with you or tell you where you can get the cheapest and best quality materials.
  • Never be afraid to admit that you don’t know something. And don’t pretend to know more than you do. They know you’re not a local and will be able to see right through you if you’re pretending to be more knowledgeable about something than you are. Again, this is where involving local partners really comes into play. They’ll be so happy that you came to them for help and feel like valuable team members.
  • Be adaptable to the local culture, but don’t be afraid to hold tight to your own values as well.
  • Try to pick up on the cultural intricacies that exist in your community. For example, not everyone in Morocco likes being called Arab. Some people are fiercely proud of their Berber heritage and will tell you that they’re Amazigh before they tell you that they’re Moroccan. Be aware of the cultural differences that exist in the community that you serve and be respectful and sensitive toward them. Don’t generalize and assume that everyone is the same.
  • Don’t beat yourself up if something doesn’t work out. As the Moroccans say, inch’allah—some things are meant to be, and some aren’t. Even if you’re not Muslim, I think this is a phrase to live by. In the end, all you can do is take a step back, reevaluate, and start over.
  • Moroccans are incredibly hospitable. Much more so than most Americans. Time and time again, random strangers would open their door to me and offer me a steaming pot of mint tea and cookies.
  • Moroccans are also the most persistent door-knockers I’ve ever seen. They will knock on a door for 10 minutes before they give up. I’m not sure whether to find this annoying or just determined.
  • Never be afraid to stand up for yourself. Whether you’re getting harassed on the street, not being heard at work, or not being properly understood, be brave and be an advocate for yourself. In the end, people will respect you for having the courage to say what you wanted to say.
  • Moroccan grand taxis might be cramped, but they always got me where I needed to go. If it’s good enough for the locals, it’s good enough for me.
  • Being a teacher is rewarding, frustrating, inspiring, challenging, tireless, fun, stressful, wonderful, and surprising. Every human being should be a teacher at least once in their life.
  • Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” –Margaret Mead
  • Take every opportunity that is presented to you, even ones that may seem trivial or unnecessary. You never know what might come from doing something new.
  • Youth must be given opportunities to learn in non-traditional ways. While traditional blackboard learning is necessary, giving students the opportunity to act, draw, sing, create, explore, and experiment is essential to them developing as well-rounded human-beings. Also, many students struggle to learn by traditional teaching methods and need to be taught in other ways in order to learn.
  • The only way for someone to become a leader is to lead. It is not enough to watch others; leaders must take initiative and do. However, all good leaders must also be good listeners and recognize others for good work.
  • Wherever you are and whatever you do, your happiness should always come first. Life is too short to be doing something you don’t love. But that being said, falling in love takes time and likewise, it can take some to time to figure out how to love what you do. Always be sure to give each thing you a do a fighting chance first, and try try try, and if you still don’t love it, move on.

 

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2 responses »

  1. I love how many of these lessons are not at all specific to Morocco or the Peace corps. So much to take home with you. Love you!

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