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Living with (More) Surprises

Courtesy of iwastesomuchtime.com

Do you ever feel that you’ve had to learn the same lessons repeatedly? I learn the don’t-make-promises-before-you-know-what-you’re-getting-into lesson over and over again. When it happens every time, it shouldn’t be a surprise. But, oh, it is. I tend to make big sweeping commitments of flexibility and openness only to be tested on my flexibility and openness. For example, when I applied to the Peace Corps, I claimed I had no expectations or requirements for where I ended up. I was immediately challenged to uphold that statement.

Courtesy of iwastesomuchtime.com

Courtesy of iwastesomuchtime.com

Below are some bits from the first entry of my Peace Corps blog from mid-2007 when I found out that I had no idea about my destination or how I was going to help anyone. It forced me to question what my own expectations were when I said, “I’ll go wherever I’m most needed”, what it means to make promises under misled expectations, and learning to embrace change and challenges.

After a round-a-bout series of phone calls within the Placement Office, I spoke to a very helpful woman in the region to which I had been referred. The shock, however, was that she was in the Europe, Mediterranean, Asia Office (EMA), NOT the African Office. When I expressed my surprise that my file had been sent to the EMA Office when I had been nominated for an African program, she preceded to tell me the following:

According to my file, I was actually nominated for an Eastern European English-teaching assignment that left in September.

I had been thinking this entire time that I had been nominated to an entirely different program, one in community development…in AFRICA. I suppose this is what it means when you say, “I will go anywhere and do any job that you need me to do” – that you will actually GO ANYWHERE. The placement assistant told me that programs leaving in September onward tend to go to Eastern Europe/Central Asia, countries such as: Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Georgia, Macedonia, Moldova, Romania, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Kyrzygz Republic, and Turkmenistan. There is a high need for “people like me” in these areas and I had a feeling that one of the biggest lessons I would first learn is how to live with surprises and altered plans. Wasn’t the Peace Corps supposed to be my way of letting life lead ME for once? This surprise was just the first step in learning that lesson.

The more I got my expectations up, the more I questioned: I will probably end up where I least expect, and how will I handle that? It will undoubtedly be a blessing in disguise; now I’m just preparing myself to be truly and genuinely open to whatever comes my way.

That experience taught me that sometimes the least expected plan brings the biggest reward. It also proved my habit of claiming impartiality when I’m really hiding assumptions and expectations. This hasn’t changed much. I began 2013 claiming that I would do whatever necessary to prioritize my health; I assumed I wouldn’t actually have to do much. I ended 2012 as a seemingly healthy and happy new 26-year-old, but the start of 2013 has been rough.

I thought I was one of the lucky ones who takes steps to bring my supposed good health to a higher level: eating clean, going vegan, exercising, and getting back into a devoted meditation practice. The problem is that paying better attention to your health can bring to light issues that you didn’t realize were there. I’m not dying or anything; however, I find myself feeling not empowered, but helpless. What I thought I was committing to has shifted, and the steps I thought I was taking to meet my goal now seem exhausting, complicated, and muddled.

Yippee for health surprises! Image from bored.com (originally gaspirtz.com)

So what does one do when the plan changes? (Ah, but hasn’t that been the theme?) If health is a priority, then I must take perspective; I shall count myself blessed for having discovered whatever it is that was lurking in my insides and jump full-force into this new challenge. If health is a priority, I breathe relief for a disposed-of ignorance. I look to those who are already meeting such challenges, and I remember an earlier time when I stuck to a previous proclamation after finding out that I really didn’t know what I was promising.

My Peace Corps experience in Moldova was a blessing, and not even one in disguise. I never regretted making a promise on grounds that shifted underneath me. When the ultimate goal is something you truly believe in, despite not knowing the full circumstances, the path shouldn’t matter. This time around I have a feeling I’ll be equally as appreciative and aware of the benefits of leaping before I look. But until then I’m going to marvel at the fact that I am still so easily surprised at life.

 

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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