Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Pre-Service Training: The Good Life

I’ve realized it’s time to start reflecting on my time here. I’ll break it down by natural phases in the “PCV cycle”. Today’s reflection will be training...

January to March, 2010

I arrived in Guatemala just over two years ago, with a backpack full of irrelevant clothing items and a flamboyant mixture of excitement and tension about what the future would hold. As the friend of many Guatemala RPCVs, and girlfriend of a Guatemalan I'd met at graduate school, I carried no small load of expectations.

My old room: is this heaven or is it hell...?

I remember our training director picking us up at the airport. We rode to the training center on a chartered school bus and I sat next to a guy with whom I would soon share a training community, chatting about my plans to build a solar shower and keep a garden wherever I lived. (Riiiiight.)

I like structure. I have to admit that I enjoyed training, from day one, perhaps a little more than the average trainee. My host mother was a good cook. She sort of understood the concept of vegetarianism. Each week we had four days of Spanish, one day at the training center, and a weekly tech training session. I loved Spanish lessons. I hadn’t brought a computer, so each night meant studying, reading for pleasure, and chatting with my boyfriend long-distance. It felt like summer camp.

There was always the looming doubt: would I stay? Could I deal two years without my boyfriend? I had some retrospectively pretty funny issues with cultural and linguistic misunderstandings. Yet... I was pretty content on a daily basis. The most uncomfortable parts of training for me were adapting my intestinal flora, living with a flea-infestation in my bed, and trying to connect with my semi-apathetic host family.

(They had had between fifteen and twenty volunteers before me - I guess you lose track around ten? - and there were no small children in the house, as I had hoped, so it was pretty much like living in a boarding house at first.)

I loved many parts of training, though. I loved Spanish lessons. I loved Field-Based Training. I loved giving my first hands-on lesson in the community. My boyfriend, coincidentally, was doing fieldwork in Guatemala, and I got to see him every two weeks. I loved that. I less than loved the absurdity of our training project with the local mayor, but we could all deal. And my host parents and I reached some sort of mutual admiration -- after two baby showers and countless Sunday mornings of hellfire and brimstone in church together.

Then came the day of our site assignment. I got a medium-sized town of 6,000 whose name I couldn’t pronounce. I had wanted a tiny community in the middle of nowhere. It was my fault, as I hadn’t spoken up to my program director. I was bummed, for the first time in country. After my site visit, though, I kind of got over it - the first hint of the crazy rollercoaster that would be Peace Corps service.

My town seemed to have a lot of potential. Lots of forest, female office-mates, a non-creepy counterpart. It didn’t hurt my optimism that I was about to have the first long weekend with my boyfriend in three months. It was an exciting time! But how would things be when the excitement passed...?

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