Alumna Reflects on Peace Corps Experiences

Hannah Combe

To the Editors:

I graduated from Oberlin on May 30, 2013 and sent in my application to Peace Corps within the next week. My interview with a recruiter happened within the month, and then I did not hear from Peace Corps until Nov. 7, five months later, when I received my formal invitation to serve as an English Education volunteer in the Republic of Georgia. This West Virginia-sized country straddles a position that excludes it from neatly fitting into either Eastern Europe or Central Asia, and it barely registered in my mind’s atlas. It has a population of about five million, tucked above Turkey and below Russia, bordering the Black Sea to the west and hovering above the Middle East. Indeed, I do not think that many Americans know about this post-Soviet nation. Outside of the Russian invasion in 2008, Georgia does not get much air time in America.

I have been in Georgia for over six months now, spending the first three months training in language, culture and education and the next three months teaching in a small village at the foot of a mountain in the middle of the country.

Peace Corps service is not easy or always comfortable. But my six months here are most accurately characterized by a constant sense of deep and abiding meaningfulness. It seems obvious: Being a volunteer in a developing country is seen as an inherently meaningful and noble venture. In reality, this view of being a volunteer does not play a large role in my everyday life, nor has it sustained me during the difficult or uncomfortable or scary times that I have had. Whence meaningfulness? I will tell you: I am often speaking another language. I am almost always outside of my comfort zone. And I am never bored. It may sound like a state of constant stress, and it certainly is stressful at times. But I learn so many things every day, and I am constantly presented with challenges to negotiate and conquer. These daily realities shape my broader perspective about being a volunteer, not the other way around. My smallest successes are my biggest victories, like buying my host mother perfume for her birthday at my favorite market in the village or passing a jovial three hours at my Georgian tutor’s house speaking Georgian.

And I am beginning to understand the meaningfulness of sharing simple daily life with people in another culture. The things that we all need to do are often the tasks and small and simple pleasures that make a normal Thursday meaningful: having a successful day at your job, having a good conversation, spending time with family and friends, eating a delicious meal or going for a walk on a sunny afternoon.

Living in a small Georgian village for the next two years will not always be great. I have already experienced medical issues that I would not in America, and I have had more days of eating pure carbohydrates in the last six months than in all 23 years of my life in America combined. But I get up every day and live in a culture that is entirely apart from my own, and I cannot imagine doing anything else with my life at this moment besides speaking Georgian, being outside my comfort zone and never, ever being bored.

–Hannah Combe, OC ’13