Name: Bryce Rinkenberger
Country of Service: Paraguay, 2011-2013
Recruitment Territory: West Michigan
10 Things Gained from my Peace Corps Service
10. A Second Home
Before service I probably wouldn’t have selected Paraguay on my own, but over my two years there it became my home. The people, the food, my community, my house … I love it all. Not a day goes by that I don’t daydream about eating watermelon while sitting in my hammock on my front porch and chatting with my host brothers.
9. Value in my Education
I learned so much while studying crop and soil sciences at Michigan State University, but it was mostly theoretical. In Paraguay I grew my own food, got up in the early morning to work in my fields, and had to protect my crops from animals and other pests. Being able to bring all those concepts that I learned at MSU to reality in Paraguay provided real-life application for my education.
My fellow volunteers from my training group are my best friends; they’re actually more like family. I talk to them almost every day. Peace Corps is a unique experience that binds people together. I also have a network of Paraguayan friends that had a huge impact in my life by sharing their lives with me, and luckily technology has made it possible to keep those relationships alive.
7. Technical Skills
Having a degree in crop science, I had never focused on the animal side of agriculture. While in Paraguay I learned the whole cycle, from raising to butchering, for a variety of livestock. I also learned how to use a machete and developed a real passion for building things out of bamboo. Peace Corps forces you to develop your resourcefulness and innovation.
I had traveled to other countries alone before, but in Paraguay I was able to learn a new language and navigate without any trouble. One of my favorite memories is when a Paraguayan asked me for directions in Asuncion because they assumed I was a local. Finishing my service is an accomplishment that I’m very proud of, and it has had a profound impact on my confidence.
Peace Corps forces you to adapt and slow down. In the U.S., we are expected to pack our days full with tons of different activities and have something written on every day of our calendars. Volunteering in Paraguay taught me to listen, value down time, and really get to know people.
After giving hour-long presentations in a language I barely spoke, I don’t allow myself to feel nervous about public speaking anymore. I lived among snakes, rats, and tarantulas. Getting on the bus to go to my site on my own for the first time is the scariest thing I have ever done, and it is going to take a lot to top that. Peace Corps gave me the opportunity to rise above what I thought I could do.
Getting away from the influences and habits of home allowed me to get to know my true self. Living in Paraguay exposed who I really am as a person, what I like and dislike, and what motivates me. Getting an opportunity for that kind of clarity is rare, and one of the results of my service that I value the most.
I lived in a very remote community—a six-mile hike from the nearest town. I often describe my experience as a dream. Occasionally I would see something like a sunset or do something really unique and it would wake me up and I would realize where I was and what I was doing. Every day was new, with new surprises and challenges.
Peace Corps gave me the opportunity to get to know myself, practice my skills and better understand the world. It exposed the things that really matter: people, relationships, and appreciating every day. It transformed my whole attitude for life. Gone are the days of dragging myself out of bed to fall into a routine. Now that I’m back home, my life is all about embracing every day, pursuing challenges, and connecting with the people in my life.