Meet Jeff. This member of the Forum is an RPCV who served in Ghana AND is about to leave to serve in the Peace Corps for a second time. Here is a little more information about him...Hi Jeff. First, tell us about the photo:
The picture is taken at my good-bye ceremony in my village. To my left are the Chief and Queen Mother of the village, with the head of the Foase Progressive Union at the end. One of the village elders is to my right.Where you are from?
I’m from Maryland, just outside of D.C. Except for my time in Peace Corps and a few years just after I was born in New York, I have lived my whole life here in Maryland.How did you become interested in the Peace Corps?
So, I was definitely NOT one of those who grew up wanting to join the Peace Corps. Honestly I hadn't even heard of the Peace Corps all the way up through when I was in my fourth year of college (note I didn’t say ‘senior year’; I was on the, uh, long-term program…!). Actually, there were two times I had heard the term “Peace Corps”: a horrible movie with Tom Hanks called Volunteers, and in the opening monologue of Dirty Dancing when Baby, “couldn’t wait to join the Peace Corps.” Of course, at the time it didn’t mean anything to me!
Then in 1998 my then-best friend from college joined the Peace Corps and moved to Niger. I went and visited her for about a month in 2000 a few months before her Close of Service …most people are probably thinking that here is where I say that my experience in Niger made me want to rush home and send in my application. Actually, as she has quoted in a memory book of her service, she actually asked me as I was leaving if I would do something like the Peace Corps. My answer pretty much verbatim: “Not a chance in Hell!”
Fast-forward a year, she’s back home and started a program in public health. I’ve always had a peripheral interest in public health as I was then a first responder as well as a first aid for the professional rescuer instructor, so I went to some of her lectures at school and really fell in love with them.
As I didn’t do too well in college (note the ‘long-term program’ comment above) I felt that my chances of getting accepted were pretty slim, so I made an appointment with an admissions counselor at the school to see what I could do to improve my resume. Her answer literally was, “join the Peace Corps.” So, I did.Talk about your background, your education and career:
I would say that my background is different from the stereotypical Peace Corps Volunteer (which I now realize is somewhat of a misnomer, as there really is no ‘stereotypical’ volunteer; one of the things I loved about my service). Almost all of my experience has been in law enforcement.
I started when I was 16 years old volunteering for the local county police department as an intern for one of the patrol shifts. Then when I started college and for the next few years I worked for the campus police department at my school. After that on to being a federal security officer with the US Customs Service before joining the Peace Corps.
During all of this I always did some volunteering – as a Red Cross CPR/First Aid instructor and as a campus sexual harassment prevention educator. Those were probably the ‘jobs’ that helped me get my nomination in the first place the first time around.
My degree is in psychology with a focus on industrial/organizational, and since COS'ing, I have taken a bunch of college-level IT courses at the community college nearby, which has helped me in my process with the Peace Corps the second time around.
Currently I work for the federal government, once again in the law enforcement field; although this time I am in a management position and not in uniform.Favorite Hobby or interest?
Well, as with many RPCV's, one of my favorite hobbies is talking about my Peace Corps service! Although my friends and family seem to tune out and roll their eyes much more often than I like when they hear, “When I was in Ghana…”
Aside from that, I am a huge reader, especially sci-fi/fantasy and military fiction. Continuing the geek theme, I am fan of gaming (tabletop, not video!). I’m a fan of live music – especially smaller-venue concerts and musicals. I love to travel, especially in unusual ways, and take the train and/or drive anywhere I can, including cross-country. I even managed to get back from Europe after my CoS without stepping foot in an airplane (although I did have to fly from Africa to Europe)!Tell us about where you served, what you did, etc?
I was a Community Health/Water and Sanitation Educator (known as WatSan) in Ghana, West Africa. I was one of the few volunteers in my staging group (and I think Ghana) who did not actually have a formal and/or structured project. My site description basically said, “The village knows you’re coming.” Officially, my counterpart was the Medical Assistant in the village clinic, which in US terms is more or less a Nurse Practitioner and is the ranking ‘doctor’ at the village level.
Since I didn’t have a formal project I did a lot of smaller ones; some of my favorites were a community cleanup (mostly since it was the first concrete thing I felt I did!) and a series of debates among female high-schoolers. The debates focused on HIV/AIDS, other sexually transmitted diseases, and gender issues. In the end over 1,000 girls in the sub-district were involved.
As someone who came from a background in law enforcement, I also managed to get a regular series of trainings going with the local police post on various job-related hygiene and safety issues (such as blood borne pathogen training and basic first aid).
Lastly, I did a little bit of work for the Peace Corps itself – as the interim Peace Corps Volunteer Leader and as a Peer Support and Diversity Trainer as well as a First Aid trainer for PC host country staff and new trainees still in PST.How did you like your country of service, describe it a little:
I loved it (although any RPCV or PCV who tells you there aren’t times when they definitely do NOT love it is, in my opinion, lying) – one of the great things about Ghana is that it is almost like serving in two different countries at the same time. The south is very different from the north. Ghana is also a great country to serve in as you can find pretty much anything you need in the capital, including all kinds of Western items. It was a British colony at one time and known as the Gold Coast, though the Dutch and Portuguese both had a presence there at one time that can still be seen along the coastline in the forts there. My site was a village a bit outside of Kumasi, the center of the Ashanti Kingdom, so there is a lot of history and cultural/tribal identity. While a big city, Kumasi is very African and definitely was a great place to be. Ghana was also at the center of the slave trade, so there are numerous slave forts that are still standing along the coastline.
In the cities, most people speak English (although Peace Corps did provide us with training on ‘Ghanaian English’), so it can be difficult for people who spend a lot of their service in or near cities to learn the local languages really well. In the villages the percent of people who speak or understand English dropped significantly – only about 4 or 5 people in my village actually spoke English; the language where I was is called Twi.Tell us a funny or interesting story about your service:
So, one of the most awkward moments at site is something that now, looking back on, was pretty funny. After arriving at site, I used to sit in on consultations my counterpart had with his patients. Partly as a way to get to know my counterpart and see how healthcare worked at the village level, and partly as a way to become more familiar to the people who lived in the surrounding area as there had never been another Westerner in my sub-district before. One day, a young mother comes in carrying her really young daughter. All of a sudden, the little girl sees me and starts SCREAMING her head off, trying to get out of her mother’s arms and run away. She starts shouting something and both my counterpart and her mother burst out laughing. As I barely knew the language at that point I had no idea what was going on. As it turns out, the little girl, having never seen nor heard of a white person other than pictures of Jesus, thought that I was Jesus, she was about to die, and I was there to take her to Heaven. Ok – it was funnier in the moment…Tell us how your return to the USA was:
Surprisingly, I found the return home to be a more difficult adjustment in many ways than the adjustment to life in Ghana.
I’m not really sure I can articulate why (not very helpful, is that?), but I felt extraordinarily out of place here for a long-time. Habits and circumstances that I found I had completely internalized were now looked upon as weird or just plain old annoying. A good example of something small is handing things to someone else. In many developing countries you only hand things such as money to another person with your right hand. That carried over to when I got back and to this day I have a hard time accepting or giving someone money at a checkout counter with anything but my right hand. It causes some weird looks and rolling eyes when I try to shuffle around what I am carrying to my left hand or only take the change and then the bills so that I can take both with my right hand.
Another thing that made it hard was that my family and friends, even those who came to visit, only cared to hear so much and so many stories about Ghana. They couldn’t relate and, it seemed, didn’t care to try. On the flip side, that’s why I think the RPCV-network is so important to reintegration, and participating in some RPCV activities when I got back really helped.What inspired you to serve a second time?
Honestly, I think there is a good mix of motivations this time around. One is a strong desire to once again be immersed in another culture and learn a way of life that we aren’t exposed to here in the States. The Peace Corps is the only organization I know of where you are integrated into the local language, culture, and activities of daily living to such a great extent.
From a career perspective, I’d like the opportunity to gain more international development experience, and in something a little more structured than my past service. This time around I’m nominated in the NGO advising sector and this fits perfectly with my current career goals of working in international organizational development (coming back full-circle to my undergrad degree in I/O psych). I am also looking forward to seeing the differences between my experiences in Ghana and (hopefully) in Eastern Europe. I realize they will be night and day, but I can’t wait to see what this next service holds in store.Where do you hope to serve and do in your next PC assignment?
My preference for my second time as a PCV is without a doubt Eastern Europe. That was actually my preference the first time around. Unlike the current application, the application back then asked you to list your preference as opposed to now where you list regions you DON’T want to serve. On my application I listed that I wanted to serve in Eastern Europe in a country that doesn't get too hot. Of course, I ended up in sub-Saharan Africa, six degrees from the equator!
Anyway, my nomination is for Moldova, so fingers crossed that my medical pre-clearance comes through soon and I manage to make it in time for an invite! Not holding my breath, though, as time is counting down quickly…How do your family and friends feel about your service and how did they feel last time around?
My family and friends are extremely supportive. A few who did not visit last time have said they’ll visit this time (we’ll see…). I admit, despite the fact that I am almost 38, I have not told my parents that I am planning on doing PC again (waiting on invite!) as I am sure while they will support my decision to serve, they will not be happy with it as I have reached a point in my life where I have a stable career with potential for advancement. That being said, as they did with Ghana, I am also sure they will come visit as they like to go to out of the way places, but feel like they have to justify going to a developing country (which is weird, I know)… What are your plans for the future after your next PC assignment?
As I learned the first time around, pre-Peace Corps plans are often not the same in any way, shape or form by the time COS comes around. That being said, at this point I hope to get a job working in organizational development, preferably with an organization or agency that has an international mission. The PC non-competitive eligibility helped me get hired with the government last time, and I’m crossing my fingers that it’ll help again when I get back from doing PC a second time.What are your thoughts about the Forum?
I think the Forum is a great opportunity to share experiences, questions and answers, and just get to see and hear from others in the Peace Corps family, whether FPCVs, PCVs, or RPCVs. I would love to see it get out there more, and be more of a part of the resources Peace Corps itself gives to potential volunteers.What is your blog address? http://doingittwice.wordpress.com/