We have two months left to go in our Peace Corps Namibia service. It is a big mixed bag of emotions as we get ready to leave our home for the last two years. We are sad, excited, nervous, eager for our next adventure, proud. It has been an incredible journey, filled with highs, lows and everything in between.
Married couples make up only 7% of Peace Corps volunteers, the rest are single. My hats off to the single volunteers – I’m not quite sure how they do it on a daily basis. Here are my thoughts on serving as a married couple in Peace Corps:
- Your partner is your main source of support. They hear all the details of your life abroad, and can remind you of your way and purpose if you get lost. You get to share and ponder the cultural questions, marvel at the beauty around you, figure out solutions to problems and laugh at the things that happened and the things you’ll never understand. Aside from working my stress out during workout videos, and my few very close Namibian and PCV friends, Josh has been a source of sanity for me. We don’t have the same kind of social life here as we did at home, our jobs aren’t as demanding, and we get more vacation time, so we spend a lot more time together. Single volunteers can easily get lonely at site- married couples have to sometimes balance too much couple vs. alone time (especially if you married an introvert:)). Seeing more of Josh has been one of my favorite parts about my Peace Corps experience. Aside from one another, our support systems from home are still in place, but it’s hard to really understand life here unless you’re living it!
- “Happiness only real when shared.” – Sharing the highs and lows of Peace Corps can be great but also difficult. This isn’t different from a couple living in their home country, of course. That is marriage – sharing the highs and the lows of life. However, I will say from first-hand experience, that living overseas, traveling and serving in the Peace Corps, can bring extremities. The highs feels incredibly high, and the lows feel incredibly low. You could have had a great day at work, and you come home to a crying wife eating brownie batter (this example actually happened quite a few times during our first year). You have to navigate the waters of sharing this experience, help pick your partner up, without letting them get you too down.
- Intertwined identities. At home my colleagues knew I was married – but they didn’t know my spouse as well as they do here in our small community. I teach some of Josh’s colleagues’ children, my learners see him in town and greet him, and I am asked often “Where’s your husband?” Your spouse really becomes a part of your identity in the Peace Corps. I will miss everyone knowing who I’m married to.
- Pushing one another. One of the lowest points in my service was when we returned from the USA after burying my Dad. I was met with challenges as any newly-minted teacher is, but on top of that, I was dealing with grief and adjusting to cultural norms. Josh was able to remind me why we signed up to do this, that the hard parts were part of the job, and helped me re-focus. He was a great support. Most importantly, he assured me that if this was going to be a miserable time, that we should quit. It was important to remember that our marriage and relationship and happiness came first.
- Having someone to help share the load. On a weekly basis Josh helped me mark countless spelling tests to ease my stress level. During exam time, he was eager with red pen in hand to help me mark 660 exams. When I needed help figuring out the best way to approach a lesson, he offered his advice. When one of us had a bad day at work, the other cooked and together we watched a show. When something happened that was culturally frustrating, a text back with empathy and a reminder that that is part of this great ride we call the Peace Corps experience. We also got to share successes and feel as if they were ours collectively. Teamwork, teamwork, teamwork! Josh is always my first pick for a teammate. 🙂
- Learning about each other’s sector work. I am an English teacher at a secondary school and Josh is a Community Economic Development Volunteer at a vocational training center. It has been educational to learn about each other’s jobs and work sites. I feel like I know the challenges and rewards of another PC sector without having had to do the job myself. Josh says that substitute teaching a day of my classes was one of his hardest days of service!
I’m so glad Peace Corps allows married couples to serve together. There can be some drawbacks too, of course, like relying and hanging out with your spouse too much (which doesn’t help you integrate in your community). Living overseas together brings new stresses but luckily Josh and I had been married for a long time before Peace Corps to work out a good system of supporting one another. I feel like we’ve been able to maintain a healthy balance in our community while strengthening our marriage during this unique experience. It is so great to share this ride with my best friend.