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.