Tag Archives: cross cultural adjustment

Here I am six months later…

25 Dec

I’ve now been in-country more than eight months and in-service for more than six. (This is a week or so late, sorry!) That means I am 8/27ths or 29.6% done with my overall time here. OR I am  6/24th or 1/4th or 25% done with my service. I am a quarter done with my service and it feels oh, so good.

Why six months is a big deal?

I’ve been here more than half a year and that seems pretty significant. I’ve also completed my first of four semesters. So one down and three more to go! If you don’t think that’s worthy of celebrating then boo to you!


As I mentioned in a recent post, something is happening. I’m starting to feel happy. That’s not to say I wasn’t happy before but this is a different kind of happy. It’s the kind of happy that comes with the security and comfort of being able to keep your head above water.

I’m not sure what exactly has been causing me to be happier lately, but I’ve got a few theories.

  1. The change in weather from the hot season to the rainy season means sometimes it’s cool out. Crazy, I know. It also rains a lot, hence the name rainy season, and I like rain.
  2. I’ve had a recent and brief reunion with the show 30 Rock. It’s a show that actually makes me laugh out loud, and laughing out loud is rather nice.
  3. Or perhaps the happiness is derived from a spike in my Vitamin D levels.  I’ve been getting proper exposure to sunshine and consequentially getting some exercise through playing kasti and jalan-jaling with the neighborhood kids.
  4. Or maybe there were so many things to suddenly look forward to like In-Service Training (IST), Thanksgiving, the end of the semester and vacation time. Whereas those first three-months, there seemed to be no end to my discomfort in adapting and integrating in my new home and community. However, now there are occasions that break things up, keep me on my toes, and it doesn’t feel like so long anymore til the next time I’ll see other volunteers or get to have an ice cream sundae.
  5. It could also be that after IST I had some kind of direction. This direction led me to work a hell of a lot harder.  Working harder keeps me busy and makes me feel productive. And I’m generally more happy when I’m busy and productive.
  6. I’ve also come a long way in adapting and integrating. (See accomplishments below.)

Likely all of these play roles in my new-found happiness, combined with me feeling like I have a place, fill a role here and people generally like me and are happy that I am here. (Either that or I am hugely ignorant which is also a source of bliss, go figure.)

So I’ve been feeling more productive, more happy and I’ve got some things to look forward to. The past two months (basically since IST), I’ve made leaps and bounds. Now the challenge lies in maintaining my new-found enthusiasm and motivation leading into next semester.

Looking back on the last six months, I can definitively say they were harder than I let myself think they were. It’s hard to explain this because, like I said, I wasn’t necessarily unhappy before, but I also wasn’t happy. I was just blah, which in my opinion is the worst kind of place to be. I was in a state of general functioning, getting through one day to the next with no vigor, conviction, interest and with intermittent bursts of happiness and sadness like I previously explained in my post on Peace Corps Mood Swings.  Bah, even as I write those words, I find myself wincing at the thought of such a lackluster demeanor. Perhaps those that dealt with me would disagree, but I know me and it wasn’t me.

So now I’ve pulled myself back up from general functioning to a state of living once again. I’ve gone through some changes, learned some things and that’s going to continue. I still have a year and a half of all of this. There will no doubt be more storms, but I finally feel like I have the strength to keep myself afloat.

On my work:

This new-found happiness  does a lot for my work here. I no longer have to keep telling myself what an amazing opportunity it is to be here because I actually believe it. I no longer have to force myself to smile when people call out after me because the smiles come more naturally. I no longer feel like interacting with people here is an obligation—something I have to do to be a good volunteer—because now it’s something I want to do. I still have to push myself, but my interactions are more genuine and things are starting to happen more naturally.  I feel more relaxed, comfortable, capable.

On shifting perspectives of time:

I’m also starting to feel like two years’ time isn’t quite so long, and in fact I almost feel like time is already slipping away. Saying I have a year and a half to go seems a lot different than saying I have two years to go. And now that I have all these marvelous ideas and some kind of direction to go with it, I fear there won’t be enough time to do half the stuff I want to do here. I’m beginning to appreciate that Peace Corps keeps us here for two years, rather than any shorter period of time because it’s part of what we came here to do.  I remember during training we met two volunteers, from Canada and France, respectively.  They were seven months into a one-year commitment to live and teach English in Indonesia from some other organization.  Perhaps they were particularly in a bad mood from the hot sun beating down as they hiked but they went on about how they were so ready to go home. They were complaining about the food, people always staring and treating them as tourists, etc. , etc.  To me it seems they hadn’t integrated and with the thought of going home in their near futures they were in their last stretch. They had already checked out and were ready to get out of here.

I can’t imagine if I were only here for a year…to only have four months left…I’m at point where I’ve been away from home long enough that I clearly cannot just go back to how things were and resume what I was doing before. I’d have to start over again. I’m at a point where I’ve worked so hard and come so far and yet there’s still so much I don’t know, I don’t understand. But I’ve come a long way.

On accomplishments:

  • I’ve got some direction and focus. Thank you Peace Corps and In-Service Training. I’d still be running in circles if it wasn’t for that.
  • I’ve got some experience under my belt. 
  • I’ve never been so far away from home for so long.  The homesickness will get you. I’ve never been so far away from my home, family and friends for so long. It’s hard, so to have made it this long completely on my own, to me, is an accomplishment.
  • I’ve made some more friends, including ones outside of school. There are actually several groups of people, neighbors mostly, that I recognize and will stop and say hi to from time to time. (This also means I really can’t go anywhere now without having to stop to talk.)
  • I know some more names. I’m still so awful at names. My trick is to avoid using names altogether when addressing people. It works most of the time, but whenever I have to use someone’s name my Achilles’ heel is  revealed. It’s a work in progress.
  • I have a rough idea of some possible secondary projects. The problem now is just knowing which ones to follow through with and hashing out the details. They are all mostly centered around what kinds of things we could implement there. So many opportunities to have some sort of positive influence or impact!
  • I hardly rely on my Indonesian-English dictionary anymore. This is both good and bad. I can communicate most essential things and pick up on a lot more than I could before. The problem is I’ve gotten comfortable and lazy in my language learning.

On challenges:

  • Continuing to push myself  – Now that I’m feeling more comfortable I have to push myself more to get out there. Before my focus was so myopic, focused on myself and surviving. Now my focus is expanding to be more available to others.
  • Vamping up the language learning. I’m nowhere near fluent and I may never be, but there’s still a lot more I could do in the language learning department.
  • Maintaining enthusiasm into the new semester
  • Knowing there’s not enough time to do everything and everything won’t go according to plan but being able to work past that and more forward anyways.

On Lessons learned so far:

The lessons learned this time around are more personal lessons learned versus the more obvious lessons learned a few months back.

  • Time flys when you are having fun and when you are not. I still can’t believe I’ve been away from home for eight months. There’s been some amazing moments, but there’s been a ton of difficult ones as well.
  • Some things just take time. It’s a lot easier to talk about having patience than to actually have it.
  • Sometimes you’ve got to ask for what you need. This gets tricky because you have to be able to identify what it is you need first. For me it was a lot more personal time than I was willing to give myself at first for fear of being a “bad volunteer.” But the result of giving myself that time has done wonders with my attitude and interactions with people in my community.
  • Other people’s expectations of me are a lot lower than my own expectations of me. I often have higher expectations of myself than others do, so learning to chill out and not trying to do everything has been essential. When I need a break, I need a break. There’s no reason to be needlessly be hard on yourself or beat myself up, and that balance is hard to find between pushing myself and giving myself a break.
  • Having a little direction does wonders for my productivity and sanity.
  • I can do this. Or at least I’m foolish enough at this point to think I can.

On celebrating six months:

These last few weeks have been busy with wrapping up school stuff before leaving for vacation. We have a two week intermission between the first semester and the second semester of the school year. I’ve also been bouncing around East Java. I went to Jogja for a school field trip of sorts. We visited some touristy places, I’m in Surabaya for Christmas and soon enough I’ll be in Bali for a little R&R and to ring in the New Year! Sampai Nanti! See you later!

Peace Corps Mood Swings

4 Aug

I believe I’m right about where I should be. Wait, let me check…yup, feeling low. Today was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day for a no good, no apparent reason. The sun was shining, and it’s wasn’t nearly as wearyingly hot as it is most days. That was a definite plus.

During pre-service training, Peace Corps gave us a handy visual that charts the mental and emotional ups and downs we would face throughout our Peace Corps service. I’m no Dr. Leo (the staff doctor here), but I’d venture to say that our mental and emotional health is just as important as avoiding malaria or some other physical ailment induced by a nipping mosquito. During training we talked about these various phases of adjustment and that we should anticipate this.

This is a handout provided by the Peace Corps illustrating the craziness of our lives.

Apparently, this is the case no matter which country you serve in. There are waves of excitement, fulfillment, discovery and joy, spotted with times of extreme loneliness, sadness, irritation, frustration, etc. We were also provided with a more detailed version. So far they are all pretty spot on.  Sometimes I can’t tell if the low points feel so low because the high points are so high or vice versa.

For instance, the other day I was giddy after introducing my host family to the joy that is eating a chocolate chip cookie fresh from the oven atop a small mound of ice cream. Absolutely giddy, I tell you. I felt like a proud parent watching their child’s first steps as they took their first bites. I tried to imagine what is must be like to never have experienced this, and I was glad I could share that tiny morsel (pun fully intended) of American culture with them. It was an amazing moment. And now here I am four days later, succumbing to the peer pressure’s of our good friend Negative Nancy.

Now I don’t mean to alarm anyone who may be reading this…family, friends, Peace Corps applicants, fellow PCs, staff, etc. Most days I’m generally happy here. This is where I want to be and what I want to be doing. So I grin and bear my way through the small frustrations and annoyances. I laugh at myself along with everyone else (see last post ). This isn’t the first time I’ve felt down, and it won’t be the last. Typically, I try and avoid any negativity in my posts. But then again, this is all part of the “Peace Corps experience,” and it shouldn’t be omitted.

I call all of this Peace Corps Mood Swings. Though,  I have no authority, I’m going to go ahead and deem this as a medical condition. It shall thus forth (in this blog post) be referred to as PCMS.  In case you are unaware of the severity of PCMS, then by all means, let me educate you:

PCMS is a serious but treatable condition and includes the following symptoms: extreme cheerfulness, irritability, increased energy, lethargy and generally wavering between extremes in moods. The onset of PCMS is subtle and is oftentimes preceded by DPCMS (Daily Peace Corps Mood Swings.) While it may not be entirely preventable, regular exercise, rest, and a healthy diet can lessen the effects of PCMS.  If you haven’t been prescribed it, talk to someone about getting a good attitude. Positivity is said to also greatly reduce the effects of PCMS.
When seeking treatment for PCMS, results may vary. Putting forth a consistent effort greatly reduces the chances of relapse.  If left untreated it could lead to ET, also known as Early Termination. The chart below suggests the typical course of treatment and recovery of those suffering from PCMS.

This is another chart provided by Peace Corps that shows more ups and downs over the course of service as well as when people typically Early Terminate, or go home before finishing their service. Areas shaded in Green = higher levels of anxiety; Black = periods of greater depression; Red = frustration and anger.

It should be noted that DPCMS is a less severe condition with many of the same symptoms but encountered during a shorter duration. Mood swings and temperament will waver throughout A 24-hour period. To treat DPCMS go to your local Indomart or neighborhood kios  (store) and indulge in ice cream and/or cookies which have been known to relieve the symptoms of DCPMS.

Transition times have always been tough for me and met with resistance. I cried after attending my jr. high school orientation because I wanted to stay in grade school forever. (Who doesn’t?  I miss painting with my fingers and mommy calling it a masterpiece.) High school was, well, high school. College was scary at first, but ultimately liberating and really fun. Then there was a brief period of limbo known as post-graduation life in which I pretended I was still in college  while waiting to leave for the Peace Corps. And now here I am, going through another life transition sans the comforts of home, like my wonderful, wonderful bed.

I once heard, there’s beauty in breakdown…hey isn’t there a song about that?  And according to my guilty pleasure, Psychology Today,  big breakdowns lead to big breakthroughs.

I know I’m not the only one having breakdowns and breakthroughs. My fellow volunteers are having revelations on a daily basis. Then there’s my friends back home who are also transitioning from college and facing the big, bad real world. I take comfort and look forward to the breakthroughs that will inevitably come and the days when I’ll look back and wish I was positioned exactly where I am now.

Bonus Material to this, probably my longest, post:

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