“People join Peace Corps for many, many reasons. My reasoning for joining was really quite selfish. I was so turned to Peace Corps knowing it would allow me to experience the ups and downs of living in a foreign land, to learn a new language, and to really explore the caverns of my shifty mind.”
– July 8, 2006, Jason Lemberg, Peace Corps Blog
Name: Jason Lemberg
Country of Service: Kyrgyz Republic, 2006-08
Assignment: Secondary English Education
Recruitment Territory: Wisconsin
The above quote was written the day after I left for staging and the day before I departed for Kyrgyzstan. I had a vague idea at the time of how living and working in the mountains of Central Asia might affect me. That image, the idea of what it would mean to be a Peace Corps Volunteer, was shattered, reconstructed, and manipulated in so many ways during my service. It really depended on the week, or even the day, as to what my service meant to me and the effect it was having me. Nearly ten years now after that blog post was written above, I am just beginning to understand how influential my Peace Corps service was. I knew I would have two years of life changing experiences. I didn’t realize just how deep those changes would go; everything from the way I parent to the mode of transportation I take to work in the morning has been affected.
My inspiration to serve in Peace Corps was, as is quoted above, largely an attempt to explore who I was. I wanted to shake to the core (pun!) of my being and have to question my identity. During my junior year of undergraduate studies at Aurora University, I was fortunate to have participated in a semester-long study abroad trip called Semester at Sea. That experience (traveling to 10 different countries!) and the people I met (including a returned volunteer) sparked an interest into diving deeper into living and learning. I wanted to become part of a community abroad and explore my identity anew as a community member in a new country, culture and language. In the end, my community—specifically my volunteer cohort and my host family—was the catalyst for my self-exploration.
The community I gained from Peace Corps is both frozen in time and evolving with me as I age. The people I met are memories of experiences and images from a distant time. The picture of Sezim in sunglasses and a hoodie; the school Halloween party that was a beautiful disaster; the moment I met Amy in Cholpon-Ata (a fellow volunteer whom I would eventually marry and start a family with); the three days of camping on the beach; the final hug from my host father (and the ensuing tears as I drove out of the village for a final time). All of these experiences are part of a larger story that is uniquely mine; a story that I constantly use as inspiration to become a better person today.
These same people are also very real part of my everyday life. From attending weddings of my returned volunteer group to Facebook chatting (in English!) with my host-sister, Nurila, I get to see my new friends and family grow and change, carrying with them the memories of our experience ten years ago. Some of these people I haven’t seen in years, others I see every few months. The commonality is that no matter the time or distance between us, we rarely need to spend much time catching up when we see each other. We are usually one good hug away from joking about vodka toasts or sharing stories as a parent. I am a better person because of them, my cohort, my counterparts, my host family; all of them. And without saying a word to any of them, they already know it.
My hope for anyone interested in Peace Corps is to be as lucky as I was to meet the people I did. The people are what gave meaning to my service and are what drive me to inspire other to serve in Peace Corps.