Three and a half years ago I applied to serve in the Peace Corps. This was something I have wanted to do since seeing their first recruiting posters when I was a freshman at Penn State in 1961. First, I had to complete my undergraduate studies and during those years and the many subsequent ones, ‘life got in the way.’ During the two decades after seeing that recruiting poster, I met several RPCVs and learned from their experiences that serving in the Peace Corps would be an even better experience than I had imagined. So, almost twenty after seeing that poster and in the first year of my marriage, my wife and I initiated joint applications. However, life got in the way once again as we soon learned that we were expecting our first child. Back then, the PC actually told us that we could take an infant into service with us. We chose not to do so. And pushed our plans to the back burner for when the children were on their own and we would have the time in retirement to pursue the PC service.
My retirement came before my wife’s and with no specific plans for my retirement, my wife suggested that I just go ahead and join the PC while she continued to work toward her retirement. We reasoned that, after all, she had worked for nearly a year in Germany only a few years ago while I remained at my job in the States. That had gone okay for us, so if I enjoyed my service in the PC, we could apply together after I return and she has retired. Then, we could serve together.
So, I applied, jumped through all of the hoops thrown at me by the PC application process and was nominated by a recruiter to serve in Central or South America. After an anxiety filled wait of a year, I received a formal invitation to serve in Eastern Europe. A win!
My assignment would be for community Development with an NGO in Macedonia. If the Peace Corps had a lottery for awarding placement assignments, I was sure that I would a winner with my assignment to Macedonia.
From the day of arrival, through PST (Pre-Service Training) and the wonderful experience I had living with my host family in Kratovo, which in itself was a fantastic small town, I knew I was in for a rewarding experience.
After PST the temporary home stay family in whose home I lived in Negotino until my apartment became available, continued to make me feel certain that I had won the Peace Corps lottery.
The country has beautiful variations in topography, located in the heart of the Balkans which offers a great starting point for many varied destinations during vacation trips. The Macedonians are very sociable, ‘other’ oriented, welcoming, very friendly and non-materialistic. For my first month at my assigned site, I stayed with another host family. This proved to be a good challenge for me because they spoke no English, so my beginner level Macedonian forced me to not only study the language harder, but it also helped me develop keener non-verbal charades type actions to converse with them.
When I finally moved into my apartment where I would live throughout my two years of service, I was once again struck with the feeling that I had won a Peace Corps lottery. I have almost as much living space as I had in my town home back in the States. I am on the 4th floor with a lovely eastward view over the town of Negotino. I get to see the sunrise each morning and, when it rains and the sun breaks out afterward, I always get to see beautiful rainbows because the sun will always be shining from the west toward my eastern view. The apartment is far nicer than what living arrangements most PCVs have anywhere else in the world. Another win!
Along with all of the other PCVs in my cohort, I have recently completed our Close of Service Conference. During the conference, the PC actually did hold a lottery. In this case, it was to determine the exact departure dates at the conclusion of our service. The PC in this country tries to even out the workload for the office staff regarding holding closure interviews with each PCV, Completing medical exams for us all, processing all of the paperwork and confirming the return of all PC property that had been issued during PST and the months following swearing in. This became the third time that I felt that I won a Peace Corps lottery for I obtained one of the earliest departure dates available. I will depart Macedonia on November 1st, well ahead of the official departure date of November 23rd that is categorically assigned to all of us based upon the date when we were sworn in back in 2011. Yet another win!
I came into the Peace Corps as a winner, lived life in Macedonia as a winner and I am returning to the States as a winner.
THAT is difficult to beat!