My partner and I are workin' and twerkin' towards two years of Peace Corps service in Zambia! We will begin our time in February of 2018, and could not be more viscerally excited (and terrified). We've been asked to write to our skills, goals, aspirations, ect... in preparation for departure. I'd like to share my answers to some of these questions below, as I believe them great fodder for the imagination. I invite you to join me in pondering these for yourselves as well.
A: What three skills will you bring to your project?
I actively seek collaboration. I do so because I believe that ideas and progress are born from reciprocal dialogue. I have a strong work ethic. This drives me to get my hands dirty, walk the walk, and support my colleagues. I listen with an open mind and an empathetic ear. This creates clear communication, and ensures that my coworkers feel respected. These qualities will help me connect with the Zambian community, which is the necessary first step in my commitment to service. They will allow me to remain a humble student of my host country, and to intuit opportunities for cultural exchange.
B: What will your approach be to working with the Zambian community on projects?
I believe that patience will be the most beneficial approach. In order to create a partnership with the local community, we must first show respect to their knowledge and practices. This means taking the time to learn what they are and why they exist- to gain an understanding of the cultural context. I hope that this will empower members of the community to express their needs and open them to collaboration. Additionally, I believe in the guiding principle of sustainability. My intention is to resolve expressed needs for the long term, not merely our length of stay. In order for this to occur, all implemented changes must be able to proceed in the absence of Corps volunteers. This means honoring Zambian beliefs throughout the process: education, implementation, and maintenance.
C: What is your cultural background, and how will this contribute to your cultural integration into Zambia?
I grew up in Marin County, California. It is a predominantly affluent, Caucasian bubble. However, my high school- San Rafael High- held contradictory statistics. The majority of students (66%) were Hispanic, many of whom were first generation immigrants. The diverse student body of San Rafael High was remarkably cohesive. Social groups were made up of individuals of all backgrounds; race- related instances were virtually nonexistent. I am grateful for my high school experience because it exposed me to cultural diversity. As a result, I learned to recognize, respect, and celebrate differences. I intend to draw from this exposure as I transition into life in Zambia. My approach will involve listening, observation, and inquiry, as these will allow me to learn everything I can from my community. I will communicate genuine appreciation to my hosts, and hope that this opens the door of connection.
D: What skills and knowledge do you hope to acquire during your time in Zambia?
As someone who works in medicine, I am fascinated by the varying health of different countries. I believe that health status is predominantly influenced by nutrition and traditions around food. Thus, I look forward to learning about how Zambians grow, cultivate, cook, and gather around food. I am excited to learn how their mindset and practices developed over time. By extension, I hope to become versed in environmentally sustainable growing methods. I hope to gain insight into the workings of local markets, and to help community members connect their crops to these. I hope to learn about prevalent health challenges and the lifestyle factors contributing to them. I believe that an education in these areas would equip me to address the holistic health of my Zambian community- its inhabitants, ecology, and economy.
E: How do you predict that your personal and professional goals will change after you return from service?
I have spent many hours pondering this question. I currently feel incredible conviction to become a Nurse Practitioner. I have never felt more inspired and challenged than when working at the bedside during a busy hospital shift. However, I am also integrating the astounding fact that I will be living in another country for two of my formative years. It is hard to project myself into the future and comprehend how different I will be upon return to the U.S. I predict that my view of health and healthcare will be more global and holistic. I can foresee this driving me towards specialties such as infectious disease, women's health, and preventative medicine. I can also envision a future in which I practice medicine in different countries: rural areas with poor access, during disease outbreaks, after environmental or political disasters. I hope to return a more patient human, with a broader understanding of why and how differences exist between us. Lastly, I hope that my personal goals will reflect a desire for connection and experience, rather than status and wealth.