On Being Unemployed

It has been far too long since I’ve last posted, and it remains a serious goal of mine to continue writing and sharing my experiences and ruminations. I began writing the below post in the middle of January, shortly before I interviewed for and accepted the position I now have at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Minneapolis. I’m the Assistant to the Principal there, and I really enjoy it. Much of the conflict discussed below as been assuaged by the work I’m doing now. More on that later, but for now I wanted to share a bit of my mindset at a time when I had been unemployed for just over two months and was starting to feel nervous about my prospects. The first half of this post is based on my vague but insistent impressions of not ‘fitting in’ and the second half has more to do with my musings about finding meaning in employment and being skeptical of easy choices.

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Reflections on Immigration Policy

Before I begin discussing my thoughts and perspective on this issue I want to admit that I have certain biases on the issue. I was raised in a relatively liberal, upper-Midwest household and therefore have not experienced living in a Southern, conservative border state. Additionally I lived for more than two years in a Central American country and got to know many incredible people who have not had the opportunities that I, as a U.S. citizen, have had and who depend on remittances from family members in the U.S. to live decent lives. These personal experiences make me more interested in pursuing justice and compassion for immigrants here, especially those in the precarious legal situation of someone who has no legal documents. That being said, I am putting my thought and opinions in the public domain in order to have them challenged and to hear different opinions, so please help me identify my biases by sharing your perspective, if you feel inclined. I’ll start by talking about what I see as the moral foundations of the debate, then move on to the practical considerations before describing the broad outlines of what I consider the most reasonable approach to immigration policy. Continue reading

Telling My Peace Corps Story, Part 3 of 3

How I’ve changed:

It’s hard to tell how I’ve changed, mostly because I’ve been around myself continually through it all. It’s hard to sense the differences when they happen so slowly. One exception is that I look older than I did two years ago. It’s an obvious point, but it’s one of the most apparent to me because for most of the last two years I’ve been without mirrors, so catching a glimpse of myself is still a bit surprising. I don’t feel I’ve changed fundamentally on the inside, though. I think I left the U.S. with a lot of burning questions about my place in the world and my global responsibility to others and I’ve come back with a calmer and less grandiose sense of my responsibility to others. That probably sounds a bit counter-intuitive; “you mean you went into the Peace Corps and now you care less about other people?” No, not care less, but I feel less pressure to dedicate myself to trying to right all the wrongs that I feel are in the world. I’ve been extremely lucky in my life to have been born where, when, and to whom I was, but that doesn’t mean I need to sacrifice my advantages out of a sense of guilt or responsibility to a global fairness. Before the Peace Corps I wondered if I shouldn’t give up all of the privileges I had received out of a sense of solidarity or at least use them up in order to pass on those privileges to others. I still have a deep desire to contribute to the well-being of others, but not from a sense of guilt. Also, I have very few illusions about anyone’s ability to fix the problems that they see in others’ lives (I’ll elaborate on this point below). Continue reading

Telling My Peace Corps Story, Part 2 of 3

Well, I’m back in the U.S. now, and had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday time. I’m going to be at home this week relaxing, reflecting, and starting the job search before moving to Northfield, MN next week. This post is about what I accomplished during my time as a Volunteer and how I view my choice to go into the Peace Corps now. Continue reading

Telling My Peace Corps Story, Part 1 of 3

It’s going to be plenty complicated for me to make sense of the time I’ve spent in the Peace Corps, let alone help others understand it all. In the next few posts I’ll try to let you in on my process of figuring out what it has meant for me and for the people I’ve met. I’ll try to keep them fairly brief and interesting. I’ll be back in the U.S. in a few hours now, but I’ll post the other parts of this post in the coming week. Thanks for reading!

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What I’ve Been Working On

The goal of this post is twofold. I will explain what I’ve been up to in the past five months for those who want to get a sense of what I have been doing in the Peace Corps, but I’m also going to create a separate page on my blog dedicated to providing resources and links for other TEFL workers and Peace Corps volunteers. I have spent the last two years learning valuable things and developing useful materials and if Peace Corps fails at one thing it is helping volunteers share their resources with other volunteers. I constantly feel like all Peace Corps volunteers are re-inventing the wheel every time we plan a community class or develop a training workshop. It’s time we had more sharing and collaboration. Continue reading

English needs a word like ‘hermosa.’

It took me almost a year to start to grasp the outlines of the meaning of the word ‘hermosa’ here in Nicaragua. I had encountered the word many times before in Spanish classes, and thought that it just meant ‘beautiful,’ as many dictionaries define it. So I was perplexed by some of the usages I was hearing in conversations with people. The word has connotations that I might translate as ‘big and beautiful,’ though it feels clumsy to translate so literally; you have to imagine that the word ‘beautiful’ also conjured images of curves and health rather than size-zero models.

At times I would hear people talk about women who had put on some weight and they would say admiringly that before she was skinny and now she is more ‘hermosa.’ I winced automatically as my American-culture ears picked up the suggestion that she was heavier, even though it was clearly a heartfelt compliment. I have been trained, as have most Americans, that skinny is sexy and less skinny is less sexy. Here, however, if you are skinny and put on some weight you are literally more ‘beautiful.’ I know many female Peace Corps volunteers who struggle with the idea that people are pointing out that they’ve gained some weight when in their culture they’re trying to give a compliment. It’s tricky, because it can be said jokingly and as a gentle tease, but it doesn’t carry the same sensitivity that it has in the states.

I love the idea that being a healthy, voluptuous woman is seen as attractive here. In the US anything less than borderline-anorexic is perceived to be disappointing. There are plenty of cultural things that I would love to bring from the US to Nicaragua (like a reading habit and empowerment of women, to name two), but there are also lots of things that I hope to bring with me back to the US. A closer relationship with the environment, a more socially supportive culture, and a return to a more natural and healthy body-image for women are great places to start.