How This Happened, Part II: “Heart Stuff” to follow.
Here’s what I wrote for my Aspiration Statement, which will be given to host country staff along with my updated resume. I won’t post the questions I was asked, but you can probably figure them out from the responses given.
A. My aspirations during my Peace Corps service are both professional and personal in nature.
My professional aspirations include developing an increased awareness of student needs; further strengthening my ability to work closely with others to achieve common goals; easily maintain positive professional relationships through communication and shared long-term goals; understand my needs as a teacher and facilitator and feel comfortable requesting the assistance of experienced professionals; improve the school culture at my workplace by participating in extra-curricular activities; provide structure by scaffolding so that my community and school can achieve goals independently; and to help teachers and students by fully utilizing the professional attributes I have gained in the States. These include dedication and organization; extensive knowledge of the construction and implementation of lesson plans; integrating available technology into teaching practices; differentiating instruction and assessment to cater to all learning types; a deep interest in cross-curricular education; creative problem solving and classroom management strategies (including participatory learning techniques); and the ability to relate instructional matters to the personal lives of students, thereby building meaningful relationships with them. I wish to help counterpart teachers develop their skills in these areas as well.
Personally, I hope to develop emotionally, spiritually, and mentally throughout the course of my Peace Corps service. I wish to see the country and people of Indonesia and to develop lasting friendships; acquire a new language; learn the nuances and viewpoints of Indonesian culture; experience the world from a non-American perspective; see the geographical and historical landmarks of Indonesia; learn about Islam and those who practice it; challenge myself to live a more modest lifestyle; and understand more deeply the essence of myself and my spirit through pursuing my artistic aspirations and building new relationships. Additionally, I seek to push myself to my limits and succeed by moving past them; gain a greater understanding of my place in the world and the web of human connectedness; develop my problem solving skills; feel the satisfaction of taking part in something larger than myself; and to experience the pride of knowing my work will help future volunteers contribute to the long-term betterment of cross-cultural relations between Americans and Indonesians. Through reflection and self-awareness, I seek to equip myself with the knowledge and sensitivity to return to the United States and teach my friends, family, and fellow citizens about the country and people of Indonesia.
B. Flexibility, creativity, and patience are the broad strategies I wish to use to increase the effectiveness of my work with host country partners. To meet expressed needs, I will draw on my experiences as both a teacher and student in numerous educational settings (particularly in the challenging arena of teaching as an outsider on the Navajo Nation). These experiences include communicating and brainstorming with counterparts and co-teachers; using direct assessment and student input to develop methods for meeting student needs; refining lesson plans through execution, reflection, and revision; and using my strong theoretical background in education originating from my university classes and personal research into best pedagogical practices. In terms of working with host country partners, I will be open-minded and flexible as well as patient with myself (and my partners) in handling communication and cultural differences. I will work towards full language development and cultural understanding through participating in and reflecting on community events, which will help me to gain the perspective and skills necessary for constructively achieving expressed goals. Because my counterparts in Indonesia are a resource that I can consult to more firmly grasp the nature of student and teacher needs, I will strive to fully understand their perspectives and to maintain a calm approach to any frustrations I or others may experience. I also wish to be as open as possible (without cultural impropriety) so that others may understand my capabilities as a teacher and human being; my intention to fully complete my term as a Volunteer; and my willingness to help those who wish for my assistance. Open communication, including professional conflict resolution strategies, is the means by which goals can be realized and achieved, so I will strive to maintain an open and non-threatening channel for communication. Finally, I will remember throughout my service that I am working with my counterparts and their students in order to help them achieve their goals, not working to propagate my own interests or beliefs; recognition and understanding of my own purpose as a volunteer will help me work effectively with counterparts to achieve expressed needs.
C. There are several strategies that I hope will successfully aid me in adapting to a new culture with respect to my own cultural background. Though I am a guest in Indonesia, I will be unique because of the planned length of my tenure there and my intention to embrace Indonesian culture through language acquisition and cultural adaptation. I view myself as a constant learner, despite my purpose as an educator; the learning/teaching exchange will, I hope, be mutual. Being open-minded and emotionally and mentally prepared to move beyond my traditional comfort zones are two qualities I hope to employ as I venture into Indonesian culture. I am an extremely flexible, level-headed, highly sensitive, and understanding person. All of these qualities will help me adapt to Indonesian culture with greater ease. I am not afraid to ask questions, seek clarification, or display my cultural and linguistic vulnerability if it means I will gain knowledge and respect. Furthermore, I am not afraid to make sacrifices or uphold cultural mores or requirements in order to maintain a respectful relationship with Indonesian community members, even if I disagree with them (for example, I will wear a headscarf to an event if someone suggests it to be more proper. Of course, this statement does not apply to dangerous or illegal situations). I also intend to maintain a high level of self-reflection and intellectual rigor with respect to decoding and analyzing cultural situations. This will help me more deeply understand Indonesian culture. Gaining experiential knowledge by simply living and being in Indonesia is something to which I greatly look forward, as is teaching Indonesian friends about my culture and self.
D. During my pre-service training I will acquire new skills and gain knowledge that will help me best to serve my future community and the projects I will begin therein. I hope to be provided with basic tools that will ease my efforts to assimilate or adapt to Indonesian culture. Though I believe I will learn an enormous amount of information about a wide range of subjects, including Bahasa Indonesia, I do not view pre-service training as an all-encompassing course in culture or language. Pre-service training will be a foundation for my future learning and development; without a strong foundation manifest in a basic understanding of language and culture, efforts to serve a community would be inefficient and their results temporary. I hope to learn just enough– just enough Bahasa Indonesia; just enough about Islam; just enough about local customs and etiquettes; just enough about current events; just enough about history and politics; just enough about food, dance, and entertainment– to feel comfortable to enter my community prepared to continue learning about all of these topics (and more) at the rigorous pace demanded by complete cultural immersion. My goal is to leave pre-service training minimally competent in the basics of culture and language. This will ensure that my transition into my new community is a smooth one. If I can successfully transition, I can begin to make an impact more quickly and with more lasting results. Additionally, during pre-service training I hope to begin to build relationships with colleagues and fellow volunteers so that I have a support network to help me more effectively serve my community. By the time I leave training and depart for my individual assignment site, I hope to have met some new Indonesian friends and colleagues as well, which will help me feel grounded in a time of extreme change and adjustment.
E. After my service ends, my personal and professional aspirations will, I hope, be positively altered and influenced.
If I succeed in realizing the personal aspirations described above (Section A), I will be positively self-actualized and able to feel confident in setting challenging goals for myself and working toward achieving them. Though I have set and achieved goals throughout my life, the self-reflection and intention-setting am experiencing as I prepare for service are deeper than I have ever encountered. I feel that my Indonesian Peace Corps service will help me understand this level of depth of spirit and purpose and how to continue using it to my advantage after I return to the States and continue to travel and work. I believe that my service will strongly influence my personal aspirations at a foundational level because of the wealth of experience I will gain; the ways I will learn to share and grow with others; the many and varied personal friendships and professional relationships I will develop; and the inner challenges and struggles I will overcome.
There is the potential, I believe, for complete change in my professional aspirations as well. Because I am a young professional and have not yet decided my ultimate career path or field of further academic pursuit, the Peace Corps has great potential to heavily influence my future. Serving in Indonesia will be the most significant undertaking of my life thus far and could help me realize my true goals and how to achieve them. Certainly, the Peace Corps (and Indonesia) will make me a stronger teacher and human being, which will benefit me in any professional realm. Though I have always felt the need to serve through direct action and education, I hope the Peace Corps will give me a greater skill set for achieving my goals in these areas. Learning how to develop programs and strategies to assist others instead of following directions or an already established path will give me great satisfaction, pride, and confidence. Completing my term of service will be the realization of a long-term goal to serve as a Peace Corps volunteer.