Todo es posible: Reflections on three years of service in Peace Corps Mexico

As I sit here, in my quaint, modest, rural Mexican apartment (at the same time still bigger than my studio apartment my first year at Bard CEP), reflecting over the past three years of my service with the Peace Corps, many thoughts cross my mind.  Friends made, relationships built with people I hardly could communicate with at first, accomplishments, new experiences, and a new and improved skill set are all things that remind me of how fulfilling my time here has been.

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I remember when I first got to my community, falling in love with the verdant mountains, the thick dense clouds that descend on the town during the rainy season (characterizing it as a cloud forest), and the amiable people who invited me in for coffee and taquitos without even knowing who I was or why I was there.

“How long will you be living here? A few weeks?”  I’ll be here for two years, that’s how long my Peace Corps service is.

“Oh, but you will love it so much you will end up staying!”  We’ll see!

Todo es posible!” (Anything is possible!)

Three years later I am finally getting mentally prepared to move back home to the States.

And in my case, how to make tamales!

And in my case, how to make tamales!

Reflecting upon my time here, I of course gained the most obvious set of skills when moving to a foreign country: the language, how to be culturally appropriate, blending in, etc.

I’ve been grateful for the chance to build on the skills I picked up at Bard CEP, such as working in groups, communication skills, and active listening skills.

But I’ve also gained a whole new set of skills from Peace Corps training and with my experience as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

One of the most useful (and most used) skills picked up from Peace Corps training is project development and management.  Through training I learned how to plan, implement, monitor, and evaluate a project, and then I actually designed and carried out several projects in my site.  I also joined the Monitoring, Reporting, and Evaluating (MRE) Task Force for Peace Corps Mexico to help improve the current MRE system, create tools and information sheets to help volunteers collect and analyze data, and to be an additional resource to help other volunteers understand the reporting process.

This skill set will be useful in environmental problem solving in the future because not only do I know how to create and implement a successful environmental project, but I now have enhanced capacity capturing and analyzing the results.

Also through my training with the Peace Corps and with Mexican governmental agency CONANP (National Commission for Natural Protected Areas) with whom I work, I learned how to create and give workshops on environmental themes.  I learned how to construct a workshop using such tools as Backward Design, 4MAT, with SMART objectives and even incorporate the project design and management process described above.  Being able to pass along important skills and information is an essential part of environmental education.

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I even helped give a workshop on how to plan a project!

I also increased my leadership skills by taking on an additional role as a Regional Volunteer Coordinator for the Peace Corps Volunteers in my region.  This entails checking the security of new host family houses, preparing new host families for the arrival of new Volunteers, and checking the safety and security of new apartments and houses for Volunteers when and if they decide to leave their host family’s house and live on their own.  With this extra responsibility the newer Volunteers in the region also look to me for advice, problem solving, and as a mentor of sorts.

Needless to say my Peace Corps experience has been fruitful.  In my three years of service I have grown so much professionally as well as personally.  The skills I learned at my first year at Bard CEP, in my Peace Corps training, and in my position as an environmental educator in my Peace Corps Site will be very useful for helping me make a positive change in the environmental field.  I am excited to return to the states to finish my last semester at Bard CEP and see what the future holds, todo es posible!

 

About Danielle Salisbury

Danielle Salisbury is a current Bard CEP Master's International student and Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from Mexico. Her interests include land use policy, stakeholder engagement, and program development and management.