If you’ve done a little bit of digging into becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer you’ve likely come across the Ten Core Expectations. Think the Ten Commandments but rendered much less memorable through the government’s uncanny ability to make simple communication incomprehensible.
It’s the kind of stuff that seems profound and important, but for the life of you, the moment you’ve set the list down, you can’t recall a single expectation in any detail. You know there’s something in there about being a good person and serving well, so thinking that’s enough you put it aside until you’re told to read it again. Unfortunately this usually doesn’t come until a warranted prompting from persons somehow aware of what you may or may not have been doing the other week when you thought no one was watching. And then you’re like, “Hmm…maybe I should have paid more attention to that bit in #5 about being responsible 24/7…”
Since we’re talking about slaps-on-the-forehead, let me now recall Core Expectation #9: Recognize that you will be perceived, in your host country and community, as a representative of the people, cultures, values, and traditions of the United States of America.
Note the polysyllable, representative. It’s nice to think that people will see me as a delegate, a passageway so to speak, through which American culture and values freely flow allowing perceptive considerations and weighing of differences through acute perspective. But in reality, my relationship with America is much more intimate. I am America. For many people in my village I’m the only American they have ever interacted with, and every little quirk about me gets laid on every other American like a kind of itchy, stereotyped blanket. “Why are all Americans a bit pudgy about the middle? Why don’t Americans iron their shirts? And why do they look so funny riding horses?”
My only redemption lies in the fact that the good things can settle too. Maybe I am a bit weird. Maybe we all are. But if after I’m gone people think, “Americans aren’t so bad. In fact, despite their inability to slaughter sheep properly, they are kind of nice and helpful,” I’ll consider my Core Expectations fulfilled.
Wear them proud