They’re here! China’s newest crop of Peace Corps Volunteers has arrived. They touched down in Chengdu on Sunday night and I am sure are already swimming through the cultural shock that instant submersion in the Middle Kingdom delivers. The numerically monikered China 19s are currently seventy strong and will hopefully retain those ranks as they face the long-haul training that is PST.
With the new volunteers in town and excited to begin their journeys, I can’t help but think back to July 1, 2006 when Thad and I were in the same position. He had diligently listened to Pimsler’s Mandarin CDs in his truck on the way to and from work for the semester leading up to our departure, but I had no such mini-foundation in the Chinese language. (I had a similar commute time, but chose to use it less productively- singing along to radio hits like Daniel Powter’s “Bad Day” and “Who Says You Can’t Go Home” by the ever-fabulous Bon Jovi.) I hit the ground without a “ni hao” or a “duo shao qian” in my proverbial pocket. We arrived in the city late at night, were handed an envelope of living expense money to get us through the summer (money that, at the time, looked like it belonged in a Monopoly box at a yard sale) and a scheduled that left no room for jet lag. Welcome to Peace Corps training!
Little did we know that we were embarking on an adventure that would include not only working with fabulous students from some of the most rural parts of the country and the making of life-long travel buddies and friends, but one that would reshape our future career paths, creating opportunities that we would never have had if we had stayed home in Idaho, just following the status quo.
But here we are, seven years later…
(Has it really been that long since China 12s began their immersion into the world of hotpot, mouth-numbing lajiao peppers and Sichuan-hua?)
That envelope of money of varying sizes no longer looks like it came from a little man with a monocle. Rather, it has become my norm. Red bills in an envelope for the ayi, a green one if I’m having lunch at a Western restaurant, blue ones for the cab drivers or purple for a soda from a noodle alley shop. Each brightly colored bill is an easy transaction, while those monochromatic green ones from home require constant mental conversion to RMB.
I don’t get up each morning to fill a white board with Poe or The Outsiders or poetry activities for my 8th grade reading classes (although I miss that immensely!). I now pop out of bed to head to the consulate where I get the pot of coffee brewing and spend my days planning community activities, keeping everyone connected to schools and local events, all while working to maintain strong morale at a post far from many western comforts.
So, welcome China 19s. We are excited to have you in the country and thrilled that you are joining the legacy that is Peace Corps China. It will change your life. For me, my service was just the beginning of exploring new sidewalks (many of which you will find to be slicker than snot when wet or littered with what we lovingly refer to as “brick bombs” after a good Chengdu rain); it was a new direction, but one that I wouldn’t change for all the cheese and peanut butter in America.
Welcome. And good luck!