I had the privilege to spend a couple of days in Chiang Mai with my fellow northerners this week, as we were “distinguished guests” at the U.S. Consulate General Chiang Mai’s Independence Day celebration. Mark this as the first time I’ve been considered a “distinguished guest”! I think that’s a true sign of adulthood, right?
In full exposure, we spend most of our days in Chiang Mai eating, drinking (both coffee and alcohol), and planning where we should eat and drink next. We’ve already established a list of favorite foreign restaurants (anything but Thai food!) and make sure to satisfy as many people’s Western-food cravings as possible in a few day’s time. When we’re full beyond measure, there’s a lot of aimless wandering and coffee drinking, which is definitely not the worst way to spend our time.
Beyond the eating, drinking, and walking, we enjoy each other’s company and the ability to hold a full conversation in English. We talk about Peace Corps life – things we’re enjoying, struggling through, afraid of, and missing terribly. We also have conversations we’ve craved for weeks and months, about subjects we simply aren’t at all able to verbalize with anyone in our communities. We’ve talked German politics, post-Peace Corps plans, pre-Peace Corps lives, past and current relationships, family dynamics, and so, so much more.
Among some of the most recent conversations, a comment from a fellow volunteer really struck me. The exact wording escapes me now, but it’s the idea that I haven’t been able to forget since then. She explained that upon coming to Peace Corps she anticipated that this would be an entirely solo journey, one of personal growth, independence, and self-sufficiency. What she found, and what many of us have come to realize at one point or another, is that this journey is, in fact, much more than that.
Sure, we live alone in small town Thailand among people whose ethnicity, language, and culture is different from our own. Sure, most of us are the only foreigner in town and yes, many of us work on projects independently. The reality, though, is that we are never, ever alone in this journey.
At any given time, there are more than 100 other people in this very country fighting the same fight and singing the same song I do every day. No less than six months ago, each and every one of these people were complete strangers and now, six months later, they’re friends, peers, coworkers, and confidants. They’re the people who “get it”.
As much as I intended for this journey to be about personal growth, it’s equally become a collective journey with my fellow PCVs. Weekends in Chiang Mai are my saving grace, as they allow for reconnection with my peers and myself. I get to wear clothes I would wear at home, eat food I would eat at home, and speak without having to consciously thinking about vocabulary and word order. As we approach the six month mark, I’m more resilient than I realized I could be and I’m becoming more adaptable by the day, but it’s safe to say I wouldn’t be here if I were on this journey alone. Peace Corps life can absolutely be lonely, but PCVs are never truly alone.
I’m not typically one for the mushy-gushy feels, but as the days go by, I become more and more thankful for my fellow PCVs.