Saturday, June 8, 2013

What I regret

For the past few weeks I've spent a lot of time reflecting on my time in Georgia… wondering if I made the most of it; if I took advantage of all the opportunities I was presented with; if I soaked it up enough… something I'm sure every Volunteer around the world questions. Could I have done more? Sure. But I don't want to look back at my life and have any regrets or wish for any do-overs, and this experience is no exception.

I'd like to believe I experienced every minute of this journey – moments of incredible happiness, extreme sadness, and sheer boredom – for a reason, just as the saying goes. Yes, I might do things differently if I were to join Peace Corps again (and yes, the thought has crossed my mind!), but regardless of what I did or did not accomplish here, this was my experience and I'm proud of committing myself to the full 2 years. So this blog isn't a list of my regrets; it's a list of things I would do differently next time.

Be in the moment. There were days when I wanted nothing more than to pack my bags and get the heck out of dodge. There were days when I made up excuses why I couldn't go to a supra or on another excursion. And, believe it or not, there were days when I craved the rat race and 12-hour workdays. I assume most Volunteers have had the same feelings at one point or another, and I'm not sure there's anything anyone could do to avoid it. Living in another culture and out of your comfort zone is just plain hard. But next time, I would say yes to the supras, yes to the excursions, and yes to all things Georgia. I was here to experience the culture after all!

Georgian supra
Tusheti excursion

Do without. Thanks to my wonderful friends and family back home (and fine, my own online shopping addiction), I really haven't had to do without since I got here. I've had brownies, peanut butter, mac & cheese, new clothes, luxurious lotions, and so much more. I also bought a modem that allowed me to access the Internet every day, even during power outages. Don't get me wrong, I was grateful for the care packages, and very much enjoyed and cherished every bit of it. But next time, I would like to *try* to do without some of those items – if for no other reason than to be a little less American and know what it's like to want things you can't have.

Awesome care package!

Learn something new. Volunteers have a lot of free time on their hands – and I mean A LOT of free time. Before coming to Georgia, I had a long list of things I wanted to accomplish: learn Spanish, read the classics and train for a marathon, just to name a few. Of course, I didn't do any of those things. I also didn't learn any Georgian dances, which is a huge part of their culture. Next time, I would “just say no!” to the countless TV episodes and movies that are passed around, and do something a little more productive with my free time.

Georgian dancing

Stay offline. With free Wi-Fi popping up in all the bigger cities, and portable modems that allow access wherever you go, it was easy to stay connected. As a business Volunteer, I needed Internet access to research and submit grant proposals, connect with other NGOs, and develop trainings. And of course it was nice to keep up on the news, Skype with friends and family and, most importantly, stream football games. But on the flip side, being online kept me from enjoying other parts of my service, and often left me feeling extremely irritated and frustrated by all the complaints and pointless updates. Next time, I would greatly limit my Internet usage and instead, take advantage of the countless opportunities around me.

Gearing up for some Gamecock football!

Love thy neighbors. Too many nights, I walked home from work too tired to care what the neighbors were up to and definitely too tired to try to talk to them. But relationships are what have sustained me here, and sometimes I kick myself for not getting to know more people. So next time, I would spend more time with my host families, friends and neighbors, and a little less time in my room.

Georgian friends

Run Forest, run! Back home I used to think how nice it would be to have my mornings free to work out or go for a long run. Here, I had plenty of time to do just that, but something always kept me from doing it… the incessant staring, the massive potholes in the roads and crazy drivers who tried to kill me, the water outages (who wants to run if you can't shower afterwards?!), rain and snow, and my only legitimate excuse, a bum knee. Next time, I would just run – not only for health reasons, but also to keep me from losing my mind.

My running path in Kvareli

Talk the talk. Most of my frustrations stemmed from the fact I couldn't really communicate. I know enough to get around and have basic conversations, but having a strategic business meeting or in-depth conversation was never an option. Georgian is an extremely difficult language, but it's not impossible to learn. And, truth be told, I rocked this language during training! It's my own fault I stopped going to my tutor and never touched my language books after PST. Next time, I would make learning the local language my #1 priority. I mean, how effective can you be if you can't really talk about anything significant?

A beautiful but difficult language!

All of that aside, when I leave in nine days, I will leave knowing I tried my best and definitely enjoyed my time in Georgia. And maybe in five or ten years, I'll even be able to see what impact this experience had on me and more importantly, on Georgia and its citizens. Being a Peace Corps Volunteer will be with me forever, and that is something I will never regret!

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