I’ve been struggling lately to reconcile my own beliefs. I’m finally coming to terms with the fact that the sun does not revolve around the earth and this new concept that the world is not flat. I’m struggling with the battle going on in my brain between what I knew and what I’ve now experienced.
As kids we all dream about what we want to be when we grow up. Something triggers a sudden revelation that yes, indeed, I want to be a monkey trainer. Then with those wonderful attention spans, a kid changes his mind and now wants to be a fireman. I changed my mind a few times growing up, but I typically stuck to a profession for a few years until reality crashed down on my head and reminded me that either I couldn’t draw (architect) or didn’t like science (rocket scientist). I remember those soul crushing reality checks were devastating, but a few weeks or months later I’d find something better to dream about. When I was 16 my mom suggested a career path to me that she thought I’d enjoy. As with most things in my life, my mom was right. The more I looked into the career, the more I wanted it. Now 10 years later, I still want to work for the Foreign Service.
But why? I have two main reasons for wanting to work for the State Department. The first has to do with my love for other cultures. As a kid, I spent some wonderful years living in Germany. That gave me the exploration bug. I wanted to know more about other cultures. Some of my favorite projects in school had to do with researching other countries and their people. Despite everything they tried to teach me in Oklahoma, Americans are not the only human beings on this planet. Through globalization and technology we have become a truly interdependent planet. Our relationships, partnerships, and shared interests are what keep our economy chugging along, even if it does have some hiccups every few years. I want my career to be focused on sharing cultures and values, along with advancing mutual interests.
My other reason for wanting to work in foreign service is deeply rooted in my family history. Both of my parents served in the Air Force. I grew up understanding service and duty. I have great respect for how my parents served America. Through osmosis I developed this same sense of duty to my nation. My life should be in service of others, not to better serve myself. I feel like I would be disrespecting my family’s legacy if I didn’t devote my life to service.
Peace Corps is about grassroots development. Help others help themselves. But why? I believe that through globalization lines on a map our slowly becoming less relevant. Yes, I’m an American but I’m a citizen of Earth. Countries rely on each other for food, resources, protection, and goods. The idea is simple, if you help developing countries advance, you help yourself. You’ll gain access to more resources, more skilled labor, increased technology, and a greater supply of food. Those citizens will also reap the rewards by having greater opportunities, increased income, access to better education, and an overall better quality of life. So, in effect, while development tries to be altruistic, it is really a mutually beneficial exchange. I want to see Ghana succeed because I care about her citizens and I care about her culture. I want my farmers to have access to better resources. I want them to be able to have the same opportunities I had growing up.
But is that just my Western upbringing and mindset that is imposing these beliefs and hopes on them? My farmers are happy, yes they’d like more money, but they often site TVs and laptops as their next purchase if they had the money. They wouldn’t reinvest their money into their farms to improve their yield in the long-run. Investment just isn’t something they think of here. But does that make it wrong? Is my way of thinking right? Am I imposing my ideals on them? Yes, I know that investment is good and it makes sense, but does it mean buying a laptop is wrong? In America, we put happiness and wealth on equal pedestals. Are we generally happy as a nation though? I would argue no. Do you have to have the American or Western ideal of happiness to be truly happy? No.
Through my Peace Corps service, I’ve been able to integrate into a community and a culture that is vastly different from my own. I’ve been able to experience life as a Ghanaian and I’ve come to understand their culture. Their way of life has had a profound impact on my own beliefs about happiness and service. I feel trapped between two worlds: my American culture and my Ghanaian thinking. I’m glad I have these two sides, because they make me a stronger global citizen. And technically there’s also my German heritage thrown in there too.
I will continue to serve my country by serving others. I will use my multiple cultural identities to make better decisions. And I will constantly reconcile my experiences so that I will challenge the status quo.
I will be forever grateful for my time in Peace Corps for allowing me to experience things that question my beliefs. Life would be awfully boring if we didn’t have belief upheavals every once in a while.
And the world would still be flat.