Some not so intuitive lessons I’ve learned as an alum: How to deal with tribal politics, juggle projects outside of my expertise and job description, how to adjust to a completely different sense of time, how to consume or politely refuse new and not always appetizing food (goat brains anyone?), how to live in SUPER-hot weather conditions, how to be one with nature (living with giant bug and poisonous snakes),and how to live electricity-less and running water-less (yeah, that’s possible) among other lessons that will impact my life forever.
You might be wondering what in the heck I’m doing that is making me learn all these lessons… believe me I ask myself the same question some days. Other days I revel in the adventure that my life has become as a US Peace Corps volunteer in a tiny town called Kalawa in the middle of Eastern Kenya.
A lot of college students are unsure of what they want to do after they graduate. I was lucky enough to have known since I was 12 when I read about Peace Corps in a National Geographic. It was then that I decided that one day I would be a volunteer.
As a junior at Oregon State University I applied for Peace Corps and NOTHING else. I didn’t take the GRE, apply for a ‘real’ job, or look at, much less apply to, a graduate studies program. One other lesson learned? Always have a backup plan. As a college senior you will constantly hear the refrain: “what’s next?” A good number of seniors will have an answer to this, confirmed jobs, graduate schools, etc. If you are in limbo wondering if the one plan you made for yourself is going to work, while listening to everyone else’s answers, you are going to panic.
After 10 weeks of training in a place called Oloitokitok in the shadow of Mt. Kilimanjaro, I was inducted as an official volunteer and sent to my site. 10 years after I told myself I would become a volunteer, I was. I work primarily with the Ministry of Public Health as a member of Kalawa Health Center’s Public Health Office. As a Peace Corps volunteer your work is not limited to a title or job description. I have been asked to help local chicken farmers, find funding to extend the local borehole (a water source), assist in a literacy boost and the creation of libraries in 37 primary schools.
I know absolutely nothing about chicken farming (is an egg fertilized in the chicken before or after it is hatched?) but I know chicken farms can improve the nutrition of the community. I’ve never worked with borehole construction but borehole water is less likely to spread waterborne diseases than water from unprotected wells. Literacy and libraries? I have a geeky weakness for books so I knew that was definitely a project I wanted to take on.
Between the ‘no’s and ‘yes’s to work on various projects I’ve managed to find a balance that has made my life challenging, yet manageably fulfilling. That’s my last lesson learned during post-college life. Find a job, career, volunteer opportunity, what have you, that is challenging and satisfying.
Finding a job post-college is tough, sometimes you are going to have to take that desk job as a secretary, (I did) before you find your passion; when that happens make the best of it. But keep looking for that opportunity to make your life what it should be.
If it doesn’t challenge you eventually it will bore you. If it doesn’t satisfy you it’s just a job and it’s going to be hard to truly enjoy that the rest of your life.
No matter where you are in your undergraduate career keep two things in mind:
- Have a backup plan. It never hurts.
- Find a job that will make you happy. No matter how hard that sounds it will be worth it.
About Amber Gomes
Amber Gomes is a US Peace Corps volunteer living in rural Kenya and working as a Public Health Volunteer. Originally from Oregon, where she attended Oregon State and majored in Political Science. One of her primary Peace Corps projects is the foundation of libraries in 37 primary schools; for more information check out this link https://www.booksforafrica.org/donate/to-project.html?projectId=125