Monday, March 10, 2008

Having 2nd, 3rd, and 4th thoughts

This whole Peace Corps thing is making me think. This past weekend I was reading a small paperback book the Peace Corps office gave to me after my interview. It's called "A Life Inspired" and is a collection of about 30 first hand accounts of volunteers' experiences in the Peace Corps. Based on the title, I assume it's supposed to be inspirational, to get one motivated to sign-up and go overseas, but I found it's having the opposite effect on me.

Not meaning to offend the authors, but I found a lot of the stories surprisingly simple in their stated accomplishments and lessons learned. Maybe I'm just in a cynical mood lately and I'm being overly critical. But reading how someone found their Peace Corps service made them more patient, less vane, and helped them discover the joys of eating with their hands and bathing under the stars is not what I'd call "a life inspired." After reading about a dozen of these first hand accounts, I was getting more and more discouraged. Many of the accounts seemed to carry a tone of self-importance - like here was this superior American going to the aid of the helpless lowly foreigner. And each carried trite examples of how it was so touching to finally connect with the native people and realize that they are just like "us". Of course they're just like us! They're human beings! They just live in a different part of the world. Sheesh!

And this chain of thought then got me thinking about my own motivations for doing this. My main motivation is I want to help people in the best way I can. But am I expressing some arrogance by thinking I have to go to a developing country to help people? Why not help people in my local community? Do I have some inherent bias or prejudice such that I think people in a developing nation need my help more? Or is it a reality that there is a definite shortage of people in these developing nations with the skills to teach what I know? Or is it just a fact that since I would be "free" labor, it's more economical to have me as a resource rather than hire someone local who might have the skills? And if that is the case, am I then displacing someone in that country who would otherwise be earning some money doing the same job?

I'm not really sure what the answers to these questions are, but it's something I must think about.