Miss Part 1? Find it here.
Coming from a profession that also has a high level of burnout (teaching), I think it’s important to be aware of the difficulties life-encompassing work like Peace Corps can bring. When you care so much, how can you not give your all until there is nothing more to give? Instead of pretending it doesn’t exist, the more we can acknowledge and affirm each other’s struggles, the more supported we will feel. From this place of affirmation, we can then look towards steps to counter burnout, and re-embrace our passion for life-changing work.
Here are some steps that I am taking to help combat my burnout and to ensure that I am still able to give my best during our 4-month extension as well. I invite PCVs (and even those in other high burnout professions) to join me and give one or two of them a try:
Remind yourself of why you made the 27-month commitment.
When I was doing a deep clean in our room the other day, I went through our materials from staging and training. It was good to look back at what we hoped to accomplish and the materials PC gave us early on about our work and future lives as PCVs. There were some great gems and memories going through those old materials and, in addition to helping me see how far we’ve come, it helped me remember why we originally wanted to make this jump.
Make a list of what is most important to you for the last few months of your service and then do those things.
At the end of July, we had our Close of Service (COS) conference. There we talked about all the logistics of finishing our service and of the emotional challenges and transitions awaiting us in the months to come. This was one of the steps that PC suggested we take – writing down what is most important to us and then finding a way to do it. Andrew and I had made a list a while ago. As we reviewed our list, it was nice to realize it’s still exactly what we want to focus on these last few months. Now, we start every week looking at our calendars, checking in with our expectations, and scheduling in times for specific things on our list – visiting people, working with our counterparts and STEP, and more visiting.
Change aspects of your work to aid in your transition out.
If your job is feeling overwhelming or mundane, see what little things you can change to either spice things up or begin to transition. Over our two years, a lot of our job has focused on teacher training through co-planning and co-teaching. As some of my teachers have advanced and improved a lot, I’ve changed to doing more observations of them and focusing more of my time and energy to one of my counterparts who needs more support. Andrew and I have also been putting a lot of time and effort into the project through which we are seeing the most results – the intensive English classes for teachers on the weekend (STEP). By doing our best to set this program up for the transition to a new volunteer(s) in the coming months, we are ensuring the sustainability of the project as well as beginning our transition out.
Invest in training.
Peace Corps Nicaragua just brought in a new group of TEFL trainees. They will swear-in as volunteers in November. Between now and then, we are taking advantage of the opportunity to share the institutional knowledge that we have learned these two years with these new recruits. It helps us reflect on our service and find ways to put into words what we have struggled with and what we o overcome those struggles. The trips to the training towns and prepping for their Practicum Week (that we’ll be hosting in late September) help keep us busy, too.
These last few months are also a great opportunity to see the fruits of our teacher trainings these last two years. We are doing more observations of our counterparts, commenting on the new strategies we see being implemented, providing feedback on how to continue being better and more effective teachers. By continuing to invest in their training, we ensure the sustainability of our project and justify why we were co-teaching, and not solo teaching, in the first place.
Record the now ordinary.
It’s easy to be fascinated when you start something new. People often take pictures on the first day of school, start travel journals when they’re early in their adventures, and blogging often comes easier to new PCVs rather than those who’ve been in country a while. But just because things aren’t “new” anymore doesn’t mean it’s not worth the effort to document our journey. Whether it’s taking pictures or video, journaling or blogging, sometimes those who’ve been immersed in something longer can bring a richness and depth that newer eyes struggle to see.
One thing that’s helped me take a second look at our now ordinary way of life is participating in Blogging Abroad’s monthly photo challenges. I know I’ll look back on our PC time one day and thing, “ugh…why didn’t I take a picture of _______ when I had the chance?” I’m notorious for having a camera around and forgetting to actually take any pictures. Having a theme to focus on each month has helped me look for the small pieces of our lives here that I’m sure one day I’ll miss. Only this time, I’ll have a picture to look back on.
Embrace your rhythm and celebrate the small.
As a volunteer who’s been in country for over two years, I feel different. I know the correct taxi prices and have no problem arguing when being overcharged 3 córdobas (roughly 10 cents). When I walk around town, students call out to me “Teacher Emily! Hello! See you later!” They might still giggle and have an accent, but the combination of their trying to use English and just being known by name brightens my day. When I walk around town, I walk with confidence, because after all this time, this is now my city, too. One of the best ways I know to combat sadness and burnout is to embrace the fact that I know the rhythm of life here and to celebrate the small moments of joy and existence. So buy street food from the specific venders that haven’t yet given you parasites. Chat with neighbors even when you’re running late, because everyone else will be late, too. Head to that grocery store, stick your hand in the gross semi-cold vat of chicken, because you can. Sing Vivir mi vida at the top of your lungs and embrace the fact that you really do love living exactly where you are.
Adjusting to the ups and downs of life isn’t isolated to Peace Corps service; we all need to practice self-care if we want to be able to live passionately and fully. When we re-engage, we open ourselves again to the joy and wonder that life can offer. When we take steps to combat burnout we are able to give of ourselves again.