june 16th marked the one year anniversary of service for my group 41 volunteers. peace corps service is 27 months (3 months training, 2 years as a bone-a-fied sworn-in volunteer). in someways it seems like it’s been SO much longer, but in other ways i don’t know where the time has gone. one year ago i said goodbye to my host family and set off on my own to encounter a whole lot more than i could ever have imagined. i saved the piece of paper with the volunteer oath we were handed during the swearing-in ceremony. it reads:
i, kristen hartman, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that i will support and defend the constitution of the united states of america against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and that i will bear true faith and allegiance to the same, that i take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, and that i will well and faithfully discharge my duties in the peace corps of the united states of america, serving ukraine to the best of my abilities and demonstrating the respect and consideration due its people. so help me god.
i don’t think i’ll ever forget that moment when my training group stood up, raised our hands, and recited this. it was all the expectations, the dreams, the fears, the excitement, i’d imagined. all the moments when i’d told people with wishful determination that i’d join peace corps someday, the endless paper work i filled out, the time i waited waited waited to call myself a volunteer was suddenly behind me and it was official. it was one of the proudest moments of my life…(yea, i know, i’m going to be a sentimental mess when i get married and have kids).
of course, trust me, i’m not a perfect volunteer. it is certainly true to say that sometimes being a volunteer is much more enjoyable then others and the life of a peace corps volunteer has some high highs and some really low lows. some days, weeks, months, my mentality is all ‘WOOO! my life is crazy awesome!!!’ and other moments when the chicago wind is urging me home it’s more so ‘what the HELL am i doing??’. it’s easy to forget that feeling i felt the first day i called myself a ‘volunteer’, to forget the reasons that got me here, to put aside everything (jobs, family, friends, a significant other) at home, and focus on my duties here.
ukrainians (and americans) ask me why i do this, why i’m here, and my answer is usually ‘to do something bigger than myself’. because of course i could have stayed at home, advanced at my job, gotten a place of my own and been content like everyone else. but i thought, i have the rest of my life to do that, right? i wanted to so something not for myself, but something greater than myself (not to mention the whole living in another country and learning a new language (mainly) bez platno (free) was a plus).
but looking back with a year of service behind me, i can’t help but feel like my ‘something bigger than myself’ is really about myself too. in a lot of ways, a lot, peace corps is not about yourself. you often have no control over things, situations, and your own independence. but then again despite that, in other ways, peace corps is about yourself — now i’m not tryin to go all ‘mother theresa’ on you but it’s selfish in the way that i’ve had a year to grow, expand, think, develop myself, my views of the world, other cultures, other people (there’s a lot of alone time in peace corps for self-reflection).
so here’s to another year of service, to another year of making great memories and friends, and to all those who have followed my blog as i share a little bit of this journey with you : )