So many things could go wrong!
Along with “That’s cool!” and “I’ve dreamed of that!”, Champa and I heard this before we joined the Peace Corps in Moldova a year ago.
What if you can’t learn the language, some people asked us. What if something happens to one of your children or grandchildren back home? What if you have a medical emergency yourself? What if you’re robbed? What if there’s a terrorist attack? What if things just don’t work out?
I generally responded by pointing out that bad things can happen in our traditional lives, too. But since we were lucky enough to have our health, finances and family circumstances in order, we were going to listen to our hearts and pursue the adventure we’d dreamed about.
Recently we were reminded how fortunate we’ve been so far. One of our best friends here had to end his service because of a medical problem. He was an older volunteer, like us, so his departure hit close to home, just like those of two other older friends who left during training. Several other older colleagues returned to the States for medical treatment but were able to resume their service.
Some younger volunteers have had medical problems, too. Colleagues have returned home because they were homesick, couldn’t adjust to life in Moldova or ran into problems. Even worse scenarios are also possible, such as volunteers around the world who have been sexually assaulted. More than 300 people have died while pursuing the Peace Corps mission since 1961, including some who were murdered (although many more died from motor vehicle injuries).
That may sound like a lot but it’s not. Even though Peace Corps Volunteers face some unique risks, their fatality rate is the same or lower than for Americans generally when controlled for age, marital status and educational attainment, according to one research study.
Peace Corps used to call itself “the toughest job you’ll ever love.” Even in a place like Moldova where living conditions can be easier than in some other countries, Peace Corps is tough. It’s not a vacation. It challenges you every day, forcing you to examine your life and beliefs. It changes how you think. It helps you serve others.
We have never regretted our decision. We view every day, even the bad ones, as a gift. Our lives are full. Our friend’s departure reminded us how lucky we’ve been. Something could go wrong for us, too, perhaps even tomorrow. But for now, we’re staying focused on what could go right.