Saturday, April 23, 2011

3rd COS Conference

COS (close of service) conferences in my opinion have never been a carefree easy-going time in my life.  They are full of paperwork, medical exams, language exams, lists of things to do.  They keep your head busy trying to figure out what to do about the future, reflecting about the past and talking in group therapy sessions about re-integrating into the US of A as well as feeling the weight that this might be the last time we see our fellow PCVs.

Even though I wasn't being evacuated out of Guinea with 105 other volunteers, this 3rd conference in China was also stressful.  It was like my COS conference in Burkina were I was the odd man out, the transfer from a different African country into a country full of close-knit volunteers who survived PST (pre-service training) together.  The China group wasn't as close though since there were several training sites so even amongst the 40 some volunteers they didn't really all know each other.  I wasn't a complete stranger having actually formed a few casual and close ties in Gansu over the past year.

Why was this year's COS conference stressful?

1.  It is overwhelming reflecting about the past two years, three years, five years of service.  How does one make a 2 minute sound byte about this amazing experience that caused so much growth as a person?  How does one answer the following questions with a minute to think about it?  

An attitude or value that I held before I left home, but now reject is... 
An idea about human nature that I now understand more thoroughly and deeply is... 
Through this experience one of the most important things I discovered about myself was...  
One of the most important things I discovered about people whose backgrounds are different from mine was...

A minute to try to come up with an answer is wow pretty overwhelming.  The thoughts and emotions that explode as you reflect, yep emotional overload.

2.  The future...  Many PCVs go back to school, grad school, law school, massage school.  Out of the group they feel the least pressure other than feeling a bit worried about finding housing and making sure all their school paperwork is in order as well as feeling a bit anxious  about whether or not spending two years in a slower paced culture will be detrimental to their re-integration into the faster school pace of the USA.  Others return to retired life and a few of us have to enter the job market.  Hearing the horror stories of RPCVs (returned PCVs) spending months looking for jobs having to work the minimum wage ones to keep themselves fed is disheartening especially since even today 6 months after COSing they still haven't found anything.

For me it was especially stressful because I have applied for the Chengdu PCV leader position.  PC China would love for me to accept this position; however, I have decided to accept only if I get an airplane ticket home for a 30 day special leave.  Being a volunteer for a sixth year would not be worth the money, but would be worth the vacation days.  

I value time off which America doesn't value as much.  America tends to value high salaries and not amazing 1-2 month vacation benefits.  Who gets to decide if I will be given 30 days special leave?  PC Washington, its budget and its policies for extending volunteers.  So at COS conference as everyone was talking about their future plans, I sat sitting on a fence going through the motions of a COSing volunteer.  In reality, my head was in mental uncertainty- will I be in Chengdu for another year or will I be back in the USA?

Stress turned into Hope

There was a career panel made up of RPCVs and one of them gave me a lot of hope.  He was a PCV in Nepal and spent a year and half looking for a job when he returned to the states.  Before joining PC as a volunteer, he had graduated with a masters in engineering and no longer wanted to do engineering.  PC helped him change careers from science to international work.

Hearing his story gave me hope about my future.

His advice:  When you get back to the states, enjoy your family, but don't get stuck on the couch.  Leave the place of comfort and take a calculated risk by moving to a new place which will force you to figure out what you want.  

Where am I thinking about going if I don't get the PCVL position in Chengdu?
New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, or Washington D.C.


M said...

Wow you're good at putting your thoughts together... It's hard for me when I'm emotional.

M said...

Wow... you are so good at putting your thoughts together. I suck at it when I get emotionnal....

Caitrin said...