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karate_chick1 in peacecorpsfolks

Living in a isolated area

Hi guys!

I have a question. In the Peace Corps application it asks me about if I am prepared to serve in a site that is isolated and/or a significant distance from other volunteers. While I understand that sometimes Peace Corps volunteers are in isolated areas, I would really love to be placed in an area with other Peace Corps volunteers. Has anyone had experience with this? Do you have any advice?

Thanks!

Comments

I'm absolutely certain that this answer is going to vary country-by-country (and even within countries), but I can offer some perspective on how things were in Namibia, where I served from 2009-2012. During my first two years (09-11) I taught at a rural elementary school and was the only PCV at my site (nearest Volunteer to me was about 110km/2 hours away). When I extended (2012), I lived in my regional center and had two sitemates plus another PCV in a satellite town about 35 minutes away.

In Namibia, if you are an education Volunteer, you will most likely (but not necessarily) be placed in a rural village, where you will be the only PCV in town, though depending on where you live in the country you might be as close as 5km from the next PCV or as far as 250km. (Namibia's population distribution is kind of weird.) Volunteers in our other two sectors, Health and Small Business Development, are more likely (but again, this is not necessarily true in all cases) to be placed in medium to large towns which may support multiple PCVs (and possibly volunteers from other countries/programs). For all three sectors, placements are driven primarily by the needs expressed by the host country/organizations; rural schools are typically underresourced and understaffed, so Education PCVs tend to go there, whereas the organizations that can better support business and health Volunteers tend to exist in towns. Of course, there are some PCVs for whom the opposite is true, but I do not believe that these placement decisions are typically made based on the preferences of Volunteers. (I do know of a small number of cases in Namibia where health issues influenced placements, ex. education PCVs placed in towns with better access to hospitals or the capital to accommodate those with medical issues. But again, those weren't issues of Volunteer preference, but decisions influenced by recommendations from the in-country Peace Corps Medical Office.)

In my placement interview (with in-country programming staff), I was not asked about my preference to be closer to/further from other Volunteers, though I do think they asked how I would handle the isolation and stress that can come from being far from other Volunteers. I don't think it's going to hurt you to discuss this possibility with placement staff once you get to your country of service, but I think that stating in your application or interview in the US that you want to be placed in a setting with other Volunteers will be a red flag for Peace Corps. As I said, you might end up with sitemates, but I think it's much more likely that you won't, and they want to know that you are going in with that mindset.

To be honest, I liked my fairly isolated, rural placement FAR better than my town life with other PCVs, so I would encourage you not to rule it out entirely. When I lived in the village, I still saw other PCVs once or twice a month when I went to town to do banking and grocery shopping, and the proliferation of cellphones in much of the developing world means you'll probably be able to text or talk to your PCV buddies as often as you want.

Sorry about the novel, but I hope it's helpful!
Thank you! That is very helpful. I am trying to figure out how I will deal with the possibility of isolation when I go, and I want to make sure I am prepared.

I guess I am just worried that living in an area with few PCV means that I will be very isolated from people in general (not necessarily other volunteers). Sorry to ask another question, but did you find it this way? Even though there weren't other PCV nearby, you still interacted with other people (locals about your age) and did not find it lonely?
It could definitely be lonely, don't get me wrong. Being in the village environment really forced me to form different types of relationships than I did in the U.S. The people I spent the most time with were my neighbor kids (ages 5, 10 and 11), a few teachers who were somewhat close to my age (I was in my mid-20s, they were all in their mid-to-late 30s, most were married and all had multiple children), and my host family (which consisted of my host brother, 14, host father, 47, and grandmother, 75). The reason I had no friends my own age is because the people my age who were in the village were there because they had nowhere else to go, limited education, no jobs, and probable alcohol abuse issues. (Or if they were women, they faced some or all of these issues with a handful of kids in tow.) I don't mean to suggest that they were/are inherently bad people, but for the most part the village 20-somethings weren't they types of people who I wished to count among my close friends. I wish that hadn't been the case, but it was.

So yeah, it was isolating to not have people who shared my life experiences, both in terms of sharing experiences like college and dating and sharing my American culture specifically, but I didn't feel isolated, if that makes any sense. If I got tired of being by myself, all I had to do was walk out the front door and I'd be likely to bump into someone who would be happy to sit and chat. I think this is really a part of the community integration process that they don't talk about, but that most (if not all) Volunteers go through, that period where you realize that there are so many more things that you have to adjust your perspective on, not just getting used to speaking the local language or eating the local foods or trying your hand at local activities (goat slaughtering, anyone?), but also how you relate to other people and the creative ways you can find common ground to build relationships. I absolutely related differently to my PCV friends than I did to my local, village friends, but I don't think it would be fair to say that one type of relationship was better than the other - they were just different.
These are some great observations!
There was a volunteer fairly close to me, and she was somebody I did not get along with at all. So even having volunteers nearby doesn't mean you won't feel lonely. You will make relationships with the host country nationals -- it is one of the goals of Peace Corps! ekaterinnille makes a good point that you may not make friendships exactly like you would in the US -- in Honduras my experience was that people my age (mid 20's) were very busy caring for their families, so I spent a lot of time with teenagers. A number of older women really reached out to me, I became close friends with one, and wound up marrying her son!
While I was close to other volunteers, there were certainly volunteers where I served (Benin) who were quite far from everyone. The downside is that it can be isolating. The upside is that you really get to become more part of your community. Also, there is the assumption here that you aren't going to feel isolated with the other volunteers. I am mainly a tech geek and don't drink. I felt isolated around volunteers too. There was one volunteer in my country who served quite far away from other volunteers. She was invited to weddings and all kinds of other cultural events. When she traveled, people from her village would send her to meet their relatives, sometimes these were women in purdah, so they were people who no volunteer would have gotten to meet without some contact person. Being isolated at your post (and for that matter all of the Peace Corps) is what you make of it. I can almost guarantee that you will feel isolated and lonely at some point, even if you have another volunteer next door. In addition to coming up with coping strategies, you also need to be honest with yourself about how much you can handle it. I got the impression that they gave us our posts based in part on what they thought we could cope with. If, after training, you don't think you can handle being way out in the middle of nowhere, tell the person making the assignments. It might help.
My experience as a married volunteer in an isolated community:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sdk-wc4Rk6w

33 minutes long.

Edited at 2013-04-12 03:43 am (UTC)