I have officially been a resident of Moldova for seven months, and there have been life lessons thrown at me every single day. Living in a country where you have very little knowledge about culture, customs and language is a humbling experience… one that I feel everyone should experience at some point in their lives. As Peace Corps Volunteers, we are thrown into a completely new country with little knowledge about its inner-workings. During the first 3 months, we go through extensive language, cultural and technical trainings that enable us to live and work as effectively as possible in our country of service. One of the first things we are shown is this handy little graphic addressing “The Cycle of Vulnerability and Adjustment” that we are likely to experience during our 27 months.
Usually I am a little skeptical about cycles like these, but this one seems to be pretty accurate for the majority of volunteers I know.
What It’s Really Like
The first few months in the new country are all butterflies and rainbows because everything is still new to you and certain cultural practices haven’t begun to wear on you. Then you begin the period of true adjustment to your new life, and that is when things get wild.
You leave your training village, your other trainees, everything familiar, and are placed in a village/town where you are very often the only English speaker. Things have stopped being fascinating and have started annoying you… like telling me that if I don’t find a man soon, I’ll be too old for anyone to want to marry me (I just turned 26, by the way). You start missing your life back at home and you begin wondering if this is really the right place for you.
Culture shock is a roller coaster of emotions… and Peace Corps Volunteers have signed up for a 27-month-long ride.
Here are some of the more humorous culture shock moments I have experienced while living in Moldova:
- Being scolded if I sit at the corner of the table because, if I do, I won’t be able to have children
- Being told not to sit on cold concrete walls or walk around barefoot in the house during the winter because it will freeze my ovaries
- Being stuck on a 95 degree minibus with no air conditioning and having the old grandmothers close the windows because a cross-wind (aka the current) obviously makes you sick and brings about premature death
- Thinking that if you whistle in the house, it will condemn your family to poverty
- If a woman can cook well, then she is ready for marriage and will be presented as marriage material to “eligible” bachelors in the town/village
While these situations have the potential to incite aggravation within me, I have learned to take a step back and just laugh. Learning to laugh at myself has been one of the greatest lessons Peace Corps has taught me. Life is an adventure and adventures are always more fun with lots of laughter along the way.