Phew! I’m glad that’s over with. Or is it?
I may have cleared customs and I may have stayed within my weight limit, but this is only the beginning. For the next 9 ½ weeks, I’ll be living out of my suitcase. You see, I’m not a volunteer just yet. I’m only a Trainee.
Before I can be sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV), I have to complete my Pre-Service Training (PST). During the next 9 ½ weeks, I’ll live with two different host families, in three different towns, and learn/train in five different categories: Language, Cross Cultural, Health, Safety, and Practical Job Training.
But before I go on, let me introduce us properly. We are Group 84, comprised of two sectors, Education and Environment. I am one of thirty people invited to serve in Jamaica. The Peace Corps has been with Jamaica since its initiation in 1962, and there are presently 80 volunteers already in service. Group 84 is, naturally, the eighty-fourth group of volunteers to offer their experience, manpower, and dedication to this tiny, but beautiful island. Together, we bring to the table a collection of unique skills and knowledge, which will aid us in our task to promote world peace and friendship.
I love my group. We range in age from early twenties to late sixties, and we hail from as far as Alaska and Hawaii. Everyone is incredible. Because we are a part of Peace Corps, we all share similar views in terms of friendship and acceptance, recognizing that we will rely on each other to get through the hardships presented during the next two years. We’re a family; we will all experience ups and downs that come from being a volunteer. There is an unspoken agreement that in order to serve effectively, we need each other for support.
When we first arrived in Jamaica, we were immediately ushered to the PC Headquarters in Kingston, where we were greeted by the PCJ staff and given a Welcome Orientation. We completed another set of medical forms, collected our cell phones, and dropped off our passports, and picked a Welcome Binder. It’s huge, black binder with a ton of information we’ll use through-out our training. Then, it was off to the Mayfair Hotel.
By Friday, we were in Hellshire, St. Catherine. We’ve been assigned host families for the next two weeks while we complete our Community Based Training. My family is great. It’s a mother and a daughter, and staying with them is a girl about my age, and a young boy of ten. They are generous, laid back, and choose not to go to church. In my home, I have a hot shower and Internet. Did I luck out or what?
Overall, there is still a lot to adjust to. I’m trying all sorts of new foods, and enjoying most of it. My host family has accommodated my inability to handle spicy foods. Meanwhile, I am busy learning the language (Patois) while at the same time, trying to understand it when my host mom speaks it to me. Currency is another adjustment that needs to be made, as well as maintaining a curfew as not to put myself in unnecessary danger.
But I’m handling it all. Through my discomfort (for lack of a better word), I experience feelings of homesickness and separation anxiety from my friends, family, and iPhone. I’m trying not to think about the fact that my car will be sold…
Meanwhile, I continue to remind myself that this is what I wanted. A culture shock. A new and somewhat frightening experience. A chance to rise above my spoiled, American lifestyle and embrace something so much bigger than me. Presently, I (or we) am at the bottom of a steep mountain, looking to the peak and wondering how on earth I’ll get there. One step at a time. And in the company of my fellow Trainees.