Thursday, February 2, 2012

Welcome Letter

I wrote a letter for new Costa Rica CED volunteers. It's a start at trying to sum up the good and bad about the PC experience:

Dear Future CED Volunteer,

Congratulations! Peace Corps has chosen you for one of its most vibrant posts--where Peace Corps has served uninterrupted since 1963 and volunteers report high levels of satisfaction. While you miss out on the thrill of going to a Central Asian country no one has ever heard of, you'll find plenty of excitement in Costa Rica. It's yours for the making.

When I was in your shoes, I stayed up late reading everything I could find about Costa Rica. You probably feel excited, overwhelmed, and in the dark about what awaits you. Don't worry. No matter how little you pack or little you know, you'll have ample opportunity in Costa Rica to sort things out.

First, you'll spend several months "on parole" as a trainee. Peace Corps will watch your every move and squeeze every ounce of training they can into your culture-shocked brain. PST will drain and sometimes frustrate you, but you'll also enjoy the company of a good host family and start lasting friendships with your fellow volunteers.

After you swear in, the horizons will open and you'll suddenly feel far away from everything. But even in a small town, you'll find no end of people to meet, coffee to drink, or businesses to chat about. You won’t rush to start a killer project to double your town's GDP. Rather, you will take your time to make friends and sound out what projects might be feasible. You will follow your neighbors' cues, whether for an informal English class for high schoolers, business tips for store owners, founding a microfinance bank or teaching a women’s group to use Excel. The typical type-A CED volunteer will struggle to adjust to a new pace and style and pick him or herself up after false starts. But you will learn to work independently, set your own goals, design your own projects and--in many ways--be your own boss. And when you've been in site for a year, it may feel more like home than where you came from.

Life as a PCV will be what you make it. You could be busy every day or you could read 100 books. You could become a soccer star or organic farmer in your free time. Of course, you'll be the same you, and some days you'll feel that your life isn't that different here than in the States. But you'll leave Costa Rica with two years of wild stories, skills you never thought you'd need, and travels your homebound peers will envy.


Alexander Douglas

Tico 20

Community Economic Development