Posted by: Jessica | January 20, 2013

Yessica (out of) El Salvador: Gratitude is the Attitude

Ever since I stepped off the plane at BWI two weeks ago, it’s like I’ve been processing my Peace Corps experience at warp speed.  It’s as if it were delayed almost a year to let me deal with all the other things that happened after my training group was told we were being forced to early COS last February; scrambling to finish up projects in my site and saying my painful goodbyes, getting engaged, finding a new job and a place to live in San Salvador, serious family illness and death back home, getting married (!), teaching and planning, starting the visa process for Moi, and moving back to Maryland.  Whew!  2012 has not been an easy year, and I think my brain simply put Peace Corps on the back burner so I could manage EVERYTHING else that was happening to me, around me, and far away from me.

But, no longer: I’m finding myself feeling many of the same emotions I experienced during those first few months in my site: loneliness, boredom, feeling unproductive, and most importantly… (drum roll)… feeling completely out of control of what is going on in my life.  Out of control of my financial situation, the visa process, my career; the list goes on.  But yesterday it dawned on me; even though I’m feeling many of the same things I felt starting out in Peace Corps, there is one important difference; I am not the same person I was nearly 3 years ago.

Peace Corps, Salvadorans, (and perhaps most importantly) my husband have taught me so many lessons about patience, creating happiness, and honestly accepting what I am in control of, and of what I’m not in control. Lately, I’ve been focused only on the ‘what I’m not in control of’ part, which has led to some serious stress, impatience, and desperation in the few weeks I’ve been back.

Those who know me well know I’m fiercely competitive and at the same time terribly afraid of failure (real or perceived); it was part of why being an actor was such a self-destructive experience for me in my early twenties, and that negativity was a HUGE part of what I wanted to root out of my life through being a PC volunteer. And while I can’t say I managed to do that in those early months in PC, I did, poco a poco, begin to stop measuring myself against my peers, begin to not feel left out of gatherings I wasn’t invited to, and begin to cherish the people, projects, and moments that did make me feel loved, proud, and happy. Many mornings when I woke up in my site feeling down, I would recite the famous prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr to myself:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

*(I’d add one more line to that): God grant me the patience to be at peace with all of the above, however long it may take. 

I’ve realized that the lessons I learned in El Salvador are something I must continue to live now more than ever in these tough first few months back in DC, where everyone seems to have earned a master’s degree ‘en utero’ and been born with a resume as long as my arm… Sometimes I can’t help but feel like I don’t belong here.  It is so easy to get caught up in the frantic pace and politics of “being successful” here, and to start down the road of self-doubt and desperation.

I am so grateful for the people and experiences that have taught me a different way of living and working over the past few years; I see now how much those lessons have prepared me to take on the next chapters of my life; readjusting, new beginnings, and building my future.



  1. Jessica, you may find a good friend/encouragment in RPCV Jennifer Bangora (Davis). She is also living in the DC area. You two have MUCH in common. Facebook her.
    Thank you for sharing thoughts and insights; I wish all good things for you and Moi.

  2. Jessica,

    I’ve learned much about you through following your PC experiences. I share your frustration of living in this fast paced world. I only recently came to peace with being a divorced (almost 60 y.o.) woman. Although, I know I did the best thing in leaving my marriage to a dishonest man, I never pictured myself single at this age/time in my life. It wasn’t part of my plan.

    Yet, the experiences I’ve had have given me the chance to help others in ways I never thought of. You have great potential for the same. I don’t know if you believe in God, but I believe there is an invisible intelligence in all matter. I call this God. Believing that, I can truly say that God is the powerful, loving controller of all things. God wishes for us to have a great experience through our lives. That is not to say there will be no difficult times. These difficult times are meant to help us become better, happier, loving persons.

    Don’t compare yourself/situation to others, compare yourself to who you were before and who you are now. Always believe that life experiences are the best teacher, the best character builders. Character matters more than any education degree. There is a perfect job waiting for you. You have a beautiful character.

    I look around me today and worry for the future. I hear on the news that there are many jobs unfilled because our schools are not preparing their graduates to qualify. I see children and young adults who do not know how to take responsibility for their actions and choices – it’s someone else’s fault. That is not who you are. You know the value of personal responsibility and have a great work ethic. These things are imbedded in your character. Matthew has work mates on visas because his boss has a very difficult time finding qualified US citizens to fill the vacancies.

    Continue to say your serenity prayer. Believe in yourself. Believe there is a loving, intelligent power inside you with your best interests in mind. Waiting is hard, not knowing is frustrating. Stay positive the best you can. Keep your eyes open to new possibilities. Your creative talents will lead to something special just for you. And with your permission, I would like to borrow your addition to the standard serenity prayer. Another prayer I love is the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi.

    I hope I get to visit with you the next time I am in the DC area.

    Love and peace to you, Jessica,

    Aunt Charlene

  3. Thank you so much for your kind words! Feel free to use the extra line, and I hope we can catch up soon on your next visit. XOXO

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