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Building Friendships One Person at a Time

Ask nearly all Peace Corps Volunteers to describe their experience, and they'll undoubtedly share stories about the local people they met in their host country. Stories of extraordinary marriage proposals, parades of curious children at their heels, or bus rides without personal space can make for hours of entertaining conversations. Most Volunteers understand the contrast between America and their host country, and the many comforts we enjoy in the U.S.Many Volunteers have demonstrated that assimilating into the culture of the host country can be a challenge. For no matter how hard you try, some American habits just stand out. "My town is too small for me to get by as anonymous," says Volunteer Hannah Mintek, a EFL/English teacher in Georgia. "Nobody is anonymous here, even if they are Georgian. I fare well in simply being of similar complexion and hair/eye color. I don't fare so well when I go for runs into the surrounding villages. It is strange to see a new face in the villages, and extremely uncommon to see a young woman exercising here."Through it all, returned Peace Corps Volunteers, almost unanimously, advise to appreciate and make the most of these relationships. Many Volunteers discuss this topic on their blogs and Web sites, offering tips for those having difficulties in their new communities, including: attending local events, networking (having a friend introduce you to a friend), starting a club, and especially making friends with a few well-connected youth in the area. To stay motivated, they also recommend setting goals and continually asking yourself: "What do I want to get out of my service?" And, according to most, the hard work will pay off. When service is over, no matter how difficult, Volunteers report great satisfaction and a willingness to do it all over again."For me, it was the people I grew close to, my neighbors and students, that allowed me get the most out of my time in Guyana" says Kati Ringer, who just finished her service. "Now that my Peace Corps service is over and I have left Guyana I remain deeply connected with those who became my extended family." (via peacecorps.gov)
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