my advice for the newest peace corps volunteers

Here’s a strange transition:  One minute you’re sitting in America, surrounded by people you cherish, burritos you cherish, Chilli’s franchises, Sonic cherry-limeades, parks, Reese’s peanut butter cups and libraries, the next minute you wake up a year later in a land where summer means removing one of three sweaters, surrounded by signs in foreign script, a group of friends who don’t speak your language, pickled vegetables, and potatoes at every turn.  And also indigestion (I should eat more than cookies for dinner tonight).

I’ll hopefully write a post about A Year in Armenia next week.  But this week we’re gearing up to receive a new group of volunteers.  Peace Corps, like those washing machines I seem to remember from The Old Life, works in cycles.  Very soon the volunteers in the cycle before mine will leave.  My group will be staying for another year.  And this new group will be arriving before they can say Bob’s Your Uncle in Armenian. This is how excited I am:

[Deleted: long explanation and defense of Facebook stalking new volunteers on account that I couldn’t make it not sound creepy.  Just consider that our current group of The Only 100 Or So Americans Around is about to increase by 50%.  That kind of news = a lot of profile page reading.]

A friend of mine, a volunteer just a few hours away, said that when her aunt served in the Peace Corps, she took a tiny skiff to another island to make the only satellite phone call to her parents she was able to make for her two years.  Now, I Skype with friends and family at home.  I read news and culture blogs, and I write this one.  And thanks to social media, we have already virtually met most of the volunteers on their way here.  Heck, according to Facebook, we’re already all FRIENDS!!  Urakh!!!!

So, in light of the upcoming life change of a small but clearly significant group of people, I have decided to give some bits of (fairly disregardable) advice based on the humble experience I’ve had completing a year of my Peace Corps commitment:

1. Do not forget lots of wool socks and some good long underwear. Also, a sleeping bag.

2. You don’t have a lot of time left. Eat everything.

3. Go to Sonic. This does two things: allows the accomplishment of something ultra-American and gets you in the driver’s seat in the car, something that won’t happen for another 27 months (and bonus if the car hop is on roller skates!).

4. Hug someone. Hug a lot of someones if possible. You’re going to meet a lot of great people here, Armenian or otherwise, but it will be a while until your new friends know how to give YOU a good hug.  Hug someone who knows how as soon as possible.

5. Scrap all your expectations. There’s no brochure or slogan or commercial to prepare you for what your life will be like.  It’s a wild ride for sure, and you’ll only really know what it will be like after it already happened.  Enjoy the heck out of it.

5. Get really excited.  You’re about to come to a fantastic place.  There will be plenty of challenges.  But if you’re game, you’ll get the chance to do arm-only dances til you can’t hold your hands up.  You can sit around toasting everyone you’ve ever met, throwing back horovats and and the occasional local spirit.  You’ll learn what is, by definition, an exotic language and take to heart words and with them concepts that you won’t be able to translate into English.  You’ll make friends that will fit into places in your heart you didn’t know had been vacant.  You’ll learn what ծավդ տանեմ means and give the sentence-as-name to all your best friends.  In general, money’s on you having a good time.

6. Get here already. Please.

5 Comments

  1. Fred Linden A-18

    Thanks Brent! Been reading your blog for months and months: love it.

  2. Hayley

    You’re adorable, Brent. Love! See you this week. =)

  3. Michael Kim

    Thanks for the thoughtful post!

  4. love it Brentajan! I was reading it and when you mentioned how we are all facebook friends, I totally imagined you saying urakh! the way you do! Miss you! see you soon!

  5. It’s “khorovats” not “horovats.” Come on people, the kh is not that hard of a sound to make. You’re killin’ me!

    Mr. Intermediate High here (me) should really not be telling people how to speak Armenian.

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