For Part 2 of the MST essay series, we are going to take a look at one of the touch­i­er-fee­l­i­er activ­i­ties we did on the last day of Mid-Ser­vice Train­ing. This activ­i­ty was reread­ing our orig­i­nal Aspi­ra­tion State­ments from the Peace Corps Appli­ca­tion. I feel that it deserves cap­i­tal­iza­tion and the be rec­og­nized as a def­i­nite thing. I rec­og­nize that I was com­ing to the process with a few advan­tages, main­ly in the form of extra let­ters before or after my name, but it real­ly isn’t a hard process. The year-long process is a test of patience, but I was nev­er real­ly wor­ried about get­ting in. I didn’t work too hard on the essays; how­ev­er, I did try to be hon­est and rep­re­sent myself well (if I remem­ber cor­rect­ly). I think the lat­er essays and paper­work received less and less time and atten­tion — exclud­ing the med­ical paper­work, of course. The med­ical clear­ance process was the most dif­fi­cult part.

So, hav­ing not gone back and read my essays since sub­mit­ting them, I didn’t know what to expect from my Aspi­ra­tion State­ment, but I was pleas­ant­ly sur­prised by the lack of insin­cer­i­ty. Per­haps I have grown a bit more jad­ed in my first year of ser­vice, because I was sur­prised that the answers didn’t sound cheesy and more star­ry-eyed, espe­cial­ly if I slip through the gauzy cur­tain of rec­ol­lec­tion and think about how unhap­py I was at the time in my post­doc. How­ev­er, even as des­per­ate as I was for some­thing dif­fer­ent, I knew that Peace Corps was not nec­es­sar­i­ly the per­fect solu­tion, and for once I didn’t have the “grass is always green­er” thing. Reread­ing my answers, what I wrote is gen­er­al­ly still true.

a new and dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive?

Shall we see what new per­spec­tive we can can come to through an exam­i­na­tion of essays past? Or what aspi­ra­tions have been met, squashed, or are yet to be achieved? Let’s take this part by part.

A: The pro­fes­sion­al attrib­ut­es that you plan to use, and what aspi­ra­tions you hope to ful­fill, dur­ing your Peace Corps ser­vice.

I would like to bring my skills to my ser­vice time; how­ev­er, I would also like to chal­lenge myself with new tasks. I think this is a giv­en for ser­vice, and over the course of the appli­ca­tion process I have thought how I would like to expand my tech­ni­cal edu­ca­tion with more social ele­ments. All of the list­ed pri­ma­ry duties – build­ing pro­fes­sion­al rela­tion­ships, com­mu­ni­ty inte­gra­tion, pro­mo­tion, train­ing, infor­ma­tion shar­ing – sat­is­fy my desire for pro­fes­sion­al expan­sion. I am also very intrigued by the oppor­tu­ni­ties for sec­ondary projects, espe­cial­ly in try­ing to appeal to girls and women to keep them inter­est­ed in sci­ence and work­ing in sci­en­tif­ic fields.

New skills — check. New tasks — check. More social ele­ments — sure, because kind of impos­si­ble to avoid in new jobs, but espe­cial­ly so in com­mu­ni­ty devel­op­ment work. I am enjoy­ing so much work­ing with a few peo­ple here (I think their pic­tures sneak into posts here reg­u­lar­ly), and learn­ing a lot from them about how to work with peo­ple. Sounds like such a sim­ple thing, and yet I man­aged to avoid it so eas­i­ly by basi­cal­ly only have research posi­tions until now. This ques­tion wasn’t explic­it­ly ask­ing about a desire to change careers, so I didn’t go into it, but it is still there in between the lines. I always tend to throw in the bit about girls and sci­ence. Of course I’m not against it, but I have been look­ing to dis­tance myself from teach­ing and men­tor­ing.

B: Your strate­gies for work­ing effec­tive­ly with host coun­try part­ners to meet expressed needs.

I plan to bring my expe­ri­ences work­ing in Switzer­land in a mul­ti-cul­tur­al envi­ron­ment to Mex­i­co. How­ev­er, I know the expe­ri­ence will be dif­fer­ent depend­ing on the exact nature of the work­ing envi­ron­ment and part­ners. In any sit­u­a­tion, I will try to lis­ten and ask ques­tions. I’ve learned to over­come my nat­ur­al shy­ness relat­ed to ask­ing ques­tions, and ask and keep ask­ing even the sim­plest ques­tions, espe­cial­ly when there could be con­fu­sion relat­ed to lan­guage and trans­la­tion.

I am try­ing to not bring pre­con­cep­tions with me about the work­ing envi­ron­ment; how­ev­er, I am aware of poten­tial dif­fi­cul­ties relat­ed to my being female in a male-dom­i­nat­ed envi­ron­ment. I have worked as a female sci­en­tist and engi­neer for a num­ber of years, and I am com­fort­able being the only female in a work envi­ron­ment. I hope my back­ground and con­fi­dence will

Can we say hooray for proof-read­ing? Or, the lack there of. I went back to the orig­i­nal file and looked at the print-out that I received this past week, and, yes, I total­ly left that last sen­tence just dan­gling there. hmmm… Didn’t seem to impact my appli­ca­tion process though. Clear­ly, the only con­clu­sion to be drawn is that my writ­ing is just so good that I don’t even need to

The rest of this answer was pret­ty good, if not a lit­tle boil­er­plate. Still, I stand by my tact­ful eva­sion. I have had a vari­ety of expe­ri­ences in the last year work­ing with host-coun­try part­ners. I think I attribute the nature of each expe­ri­ence to the per­son­al­i­ties of the dif­fer­ent peo­ple involved and the dif­fer­ent projects. Cul­ture is a fac­tor, but I don’t think I’ve had an expe­ri­ence yet where the cul­ture would have deter­mined the com­plete suc­cess or fail­ure of a project. I’m sure oth­er peo­ple have had dif­fer­ent expe­ri­ences, and I’d love to hear about them. I’m hap­py to post guest authors on my blog who have some­thing to say.

Not all dam­selflies can evade me

C: Your strate­gies for adapt­ing to a new cul­ture with respect to your own cul­tur­al back­ground.

Using my expe­ri­ence of mov­ing from the US to Switzer­land, my strat­e­gy for adapt­ing to the cul­ture in Mex­i­co will begin with an atti­tude of respect­ful­ness. I’ve learned that hav­ing an open atti­tude in a new coun­try is a good way to learn about and begin to fit into a new cul­ture. In addi­tion, I enjoy learn­ing about new cul­tures, and I think this will­ing­ness to learn is one of the best ways to show respect and fit into a new place and cul­ture. Learn­ing Span­ish and hope­ful­ly find­ing time to explore Mex­i­co are also strate­gies that I am excit­ed to begin and apply to this new expe­ri­ence.

Yep. All still true and noth­ing real­ly dif­fer­ent here. There are good days and bad, but this is life. I’m not a dif­fer­ent per­son just because I’m in a dif­fer­ent cul­ture, but speak­ing a lan­guage oth­er than Eng­lish does make more out-going and that helps in all types of social and pro­fes­sion­al sit­u­a­tions. It can be awk­ward to sound like a tod­dler and frus­trat­ing to know that peo­ple are get­ting the wrong impres­sion of your intelligence/aptitude/skills, but I find that being more out-going helps me get into things that I oth­er­wise would not. Still, when it comes down to it, I will nev­er be a social but­ter­fly and I like hav­ing a few, close friends. Even being more out-going, I still like a lot of qui­et evenings at home by myself.

D: The skills and knowl­edge you hope to gain dur­ing pre-ser­vice train­ing to best serve your future com­mu­ni­ty and project.

The oppor­tu­ni­ty to learn Span­ish in a inten­sive man­ner is the first train­ing task that I look for­ward to dur­ing the pre-ser­vice time. The moti­va­tion to com­mu­ni­cate is very strong giv­en the immer­sion set­ting and be as effec­tive as pos­si­ble with the pro­fes­sion­al part­ners. I also look for­ward to the train­ing with the oth­er vol­un­teers and learn­ing from them. I expect that the diver­si­ty of knowl­edge in the group of vol­un­teers will be a great resource as our projects take focus.

Well, here we seem to have an exam­ple of lay­ing it on a bit thick in the sec­ond half of the answer, and yet the oth­er Vol­un­teers have been the best resource for projects. Damn. Inten­sive Span­ish train­ing was absolute­ly the high­light of train­ing and every­thing I hoped it would be. Per­haps if I were to rewrite this in hind­sight, I would say “the train­ing task” and omit the word “first”. I loved the oppor­tu­ni­ty to learn Span­ish 5 hours a day, and that was a part of train­ing I have nev­er had any­thing bad to say about. We had amaz­ing teach­ers and the Span­ish pro­gram is very well run.

It can be dan­ger­ous to exam­ine things too close­ly.

E: How you think Peace Corps ser­vice will influ­ence your per­son­al and pro­fes­sion­al aspi­ra­tions after your ser­vice ends.

Among my moti­va­tions for Peace Corps ser­vice is a desire to refo­cus my career away from the pure research envi­ron­ment. I am hop­ing that ser­vice is a way to com­bine my skills and learn new ones. I would like to con­tin­ue to work in mul­ti-cul­tur­al envi­ron­ments, and so I val­ue this oppor­tu­ni­ty to have expo­sure to a cul­ture that plays such an impor­tant role in the US. I am not com­plete­ly sure of the direc­tion my career will take after my ser­vice ends, but I look for­ward to all the pos­si­bil­i­ties that ser­vice affords me.

Ah, here we are. I knew there was some­thing in there which more clear­ly stat­ed my desire to get away from research. I’m still not sure what direc­tion my career will take after ser­vice, but I do feel that I have been learn­ing and I am begin­ning to feel con­fi­dent in my new skills. How­ev­er, I also feel that a bit of this is in spite of my pri­ma­ry assign­ment. This is also the trick­i­est to dis­cuss. I agreed to serve in what­ev­er assign­ment I was giv­en, and I thought that I under­stood some part about hav­ing the free­dom and flex­i­bil­i­ty to find the best oppor­tu­ni­ties to serve the over­all Peace Corps goals. Think­ing in terms of aspi­ra­tions, I didn’t think it would be that hard to escape a research envi­ron­ment when I was join­ing the Peace Corps. I guess, until I accept­ed the com­pro­mise to come to Mex­i­co. Still, the assign­ment was so lack­ing in infor­ma­tion that I was opti­mistic. I knew that the work here wasn’t going to be the most tra­di­tion­al PC work, but I should have tak­en some time to rewrite my CV. I sub­mit­ted my stan­dard CV, which at the time list­ed all my research activ­i­ties and was orga­nized in a most­ly aca­d­e­m­ic fash­ion.

Blah, blah, blah. The last part is slip­ping into the same old prick­ly song and dance that I have been singing for a year. This essay here and now is about aspi­ra­tions, sup­pos­ed­ly. Well, and reflec­tions upon past aspi­ra­tions. The projects from which I post lots of pic­tures are the work that I feel I am here to be doing, and look for­ward to in the next year. Still, when asked today the sim­ple ques­tion “So, how are we for the next year?,” I didn’t know how to answer it. We shall see.

What doesn’t come through in this post is how large of a font I used in the Aspi­ra­tion State­ment doc­u­ment. Not sure what I was think­ing there. Prob­a­bly want­ed it to go onto 2 pages. After see­ing that some peo­ple in my group sub­mit­ted bul­let­ed-lists as respons­es, and I have half-fin­ished sen­tences, I’m guess­ing that it didn’t real­ly mat­ter.