In honor of Peace Corps’ 50th Anniversary this year, a few volunteers created a website to tell stories of how Peace Corps volunteers are accomplishing the Peace Corps mission and goals in Moldova. The site is called 365 days of Peace and Friendship, and I wrote the post below for that project. If you’re interested, there are some great stories on the site, and I would encourage you to browse through. You can see my post on the site here.
It’s amazing how quickly we open our hearts to people.
One of the rewarding things about this experience is watching the development of cross-cultural relationships between volunteers and Moldovans. It’s the magic of human connection, and it transcends any work we do here. We become family. We grow to love each other.
Last weekend I went back to visit the host family I stayed with during training, and it was wonderful. I’ve been back several times, for birthdays and holidays and just to say hello, and it’s always wonderful. Sitting around the table sharing stories and laughing with them, I started to remember the first day we arrived…
In the blazing summer heat, we waited for our families to pick us up. More tired than I’ve ever been after hours of traveling, welcome orientation, our families arrived and I couldn’t speak a word of Romanian. Everything was strange and new, and I had no idea what to expect. I remember what we ate. Chicken with boiled potatoes and salad. Shots of Baileys. It was a delicious meal. The teenagers of the family, who have all studied English, did all of the translating. Then I went to unpack my bags and settle into my room. And, trying to fall asleep that first night, I wondered what I had gotten myself into. The pull of home was strong. I’d been removed from everything and everyone familiar to me. And in the morning, waking up to the crow of roosters outside, I laid in bed questioning my decision again. I just volunteered to go live with strangers in a strange country for two years. Was I out of my mind?
Honestly, maybe you do have to be a little bit crazy to undertake an experience like this. And, in many ways, that first week was hard. But it was also filled with excitement and new experiences. And I quickly began to start to feel at home.
By the end of two months, I cried saying goodbye to my family, even though I knew I’d be back to visit. The night before I left for my permanent site, a neighbor had stopped by and asked, “Are you glad you did it? Are you glad you hosted an American volunteer?” My host mom answered, “Of course, Jennifer is like our family now.” Later, staying with them during a second round of training, I visited my host sister’s high school English class, and she told her teacher that I was “like a sister.” I was part of the family. And every time I go back to visit, I get a big hug from my 6-year-old host brother, “Jenn-EEE-furr!” and big smiles from everyone when I walk in the door. I actually understand what’s being said, I get the jokes, and we chat comfortably in Romanian. And when I leave, then first try to convince me to stay longer, and then they tell me to come back again soon; they’ll be waiting.
And we all have stories like this. Ways that we’ve been impacted by the people here. And we, too, leave our footprints on the hearts of many here. Host families, work partners, youth in the community; my fellow volunteers are doing incredible things. Building incredible relationships. Language divides us, culture divides us, but still the human connection overcomes. And that, I believe, is the true measure of the impact we are making here.