South America

Close of Service: Goodbye, Peace Corps Colombia!

On Dec 6, 2013, I rang the bell marking the “Close of Service,” or COS, of my Peace Corps Service in Colombia. My service, like most things anticipated since forever, was nothing like what I could have imagined. I served in the “concrete jungle” of the urban port city, Barranquilla. It is home to 1.9 million people, 500 public schools, and the craziest city bus system I ever hope to navigate.

On December 7, the day I’m writing this, I head to Bolivia and then Peru for some post-COS adventures, arriving back in the US for New Year’s Eve. Saying goodbye is really, really hard. Thank goodness I have the excitement of my trip to focus on. This way I can delay processing it. Even now, I’m sitting at the front table in my host family’s house. My host mom is drawing a pattern for a shirt she wants to make. The generator is going at the hospital across the street because the electricity went out some minutes earlier. My neighbors are scolding their children in the streets. And the ice cream man is passing with his cart blaring the recording for me to run and buy ice cream, quick! Just a regular Saturday. Except that it’s my last one here in Colombia.

I have all the emotions: sadness in leaving the people I call family here; excitement to meet up with friends and family in the US;  disappointment in what I never managed to do, pride  in all I accomplished; fear at what the future brings; contentment knowing it’s time to move on.

It’s strange to have done something with such an abrupt and dramatic beginning and end. Stepping in and out of a familiar “every day,” whether that was the US or now, Colombia, is HARD. It’s disorienting and bewildering and thrilling and a little bit lonely. On the Colombian side of the experience, it was interesting and cool. Something different. Even the most difficult challenges were story-fodder. Now, the challenge will be personal.

But like every time in life, big transitions are the best times for personal change.  I applied to go to graduate school, so I know that there will be lots of transition time in the future, for better or for worse. Good thing I’m a lot better at living with uncertainty than I used to be.

I can only hope that I manage a successful re-adjustment without forgetting all the lessons I learned here about myself and the world. I can only wonder how long it will take me to think of the  things that have become normal, here in Colombia, as “strange” again in the US. Whether that’s talking about poop in great detail with friends and/or minor acquaintances, living without air conditioning in equatorial heat, having low expectations, or living with my parents at age 25, I’ll have to fight to remember that although my perceptions have changed, that won’t be the case for the people in the US with whom I’ll work and live. So there’s that.

For now, it’s time to un-stick myself from this chair and take my noon-time shower. Not just because it’s hot, and that’s a normal thing to do—but because I’m getting ready to pack my last few things, and head to the airport. To leave the country, and the Peace Corps. As for these last two years – in the words of my friend, who COS’d with me yesterday, “There were highs, there were lows, and this was tough. But it’s all been worth it.”

Here’s to the next adventure, and that I remember to live every day anywhere as though it will be worthy of a story!

Emily Fiocco
Emily graduated college in 2010 with a creative writing degree, which naturally led to working at a healthcare software company in Madison, Wisconsin. After managing software projects for a year, she ended her spurt as an American professional to return to what she truly enjoys—traveling, living in new cultures, and non-profit work. Her life in the Peace Corps in the huge city of Barranquilla, Colombia has ironically turned her into an urban dweller. She is learning to make her home in a city that believes in fashion above all else, even during un-air-conditioned 100+ degree heat. Her job is teaching students and training teachers at a large, all-girls school, supporting the country’s goal to turn its schools bilingual by 2019. While here, her spare time activities include hunting down ovens in which to cook delicious, Colombianified food, embarrassing herself with highly gringa dance moves, reveling in the local geographical luxury of consistently labeled streets, and trying to improve her Spanish with the help of the local Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

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