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Keeping in Touch or Keeping Your Distance?

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When you leave a travel destination, do you intend to stay in touch with those you’ve met while traveling?

Image from http://www.maurilioamorim.com

I speak not only to fellow Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs), but anyone who has connected personally with another while traveling, abroad or otherwise. However, the intensity, pressure, and time spent abroad during PC service definitely makes keeping in touch seem more of a social requirement. A vast amount of us live with host families throughout our entire service. They become of blood, our connection to all things important, and our saviors in times of culinary or cultural distress. And, even if we don’t live with host families, our entire service depends upon the foundation of relationship-building and interpersonal exchange.

Relationships with culture, language, and family may shift unwillingly as the context changes. Since being back in America, it’s curious how some who cursed the foreign language while abroad were eager to speak it upon landing home. Also amusing are those of us, including yours truly, who judged the PCVs who spoke publicly in English, but now use our common foreign language to tell secrets in American crowds.

Just as our feelings about the language change, so can our feelings about keeping in touch. Having every intention while in-country of maintaining strong bonds upon return, it can feel overwhelming upon the actual return. There is also the necessary value of quiet reflection upon completing such a potentially emotional and stressful experience. And that reflection is sometimes best when uninterrupted by social obligations and possibly distorted memories of the experience.

Of course, meeting incredible people with powerful, unique stories is one of the invaluable aspects of travel. But does that mean we have to carry that relationship into a new context? I don’t mean to sound standoffish or inconsiderate. In fact, I wish I kept in better touch with those who helped transform my Moldovan experience. I merely mean that I now have a better understanding of why some choose not to continue their relationship with a country of service.

Some PCVs return multiple times to their country of service and others will never call, Skype, or write. For some, the choice to break ties is an emotional necessity; for others, it’s merely a factor of passing time.

The question is: Does the amount of energy we put into staying connected directly indicate how much the experience and the people have meant to us?

I used to say yes. Now I say no. What do you think?

Samantha Marangell
Blogger As a former Peace Corps Volunteer (Moldova ‘07-’09) Samantha appreciates seeing a new country through the host community and, when traveling, she looks forward to learning key phrases in the respective languages. She has just moved to the Australia after a year in the Czech Republic. She will reflect on making friends abroad and figuring out whether she'll finally stay in one place.

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