Southern Association of Black Peace Corps Volunteers

Increasing the number of African Americans in the International Arena

L.A. – Dominican Republic

How Peace Corps Changed My Life

By Lyra Alicea, Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, Dominican Republic, 1995-1997

Peace Corps did not change my life, but it did compel me to make life changes.

First and foremost, I had to take full responsibility for every aspect of my life.  During my Peace Corps service in the Dominican Republic, for the first time in my life, I was entirely responsible for managing my healthcare, access to potable water, food, adequate housing, building relationships, my thoughts, work, my actions, and other life experiences.  The silhouette of my family, friends, culture, and country – which had always defined and bounded me – were 600 miles away.  This may not seem far.  Yet, nestled under my mosquito net, in my rented wood plank house with a leaky zinc roof, carefully listening for the wail of the windmill announcing well water, I felt like I could have been half way around the world.  Then and now, I willingly take responsibility for every aspect of my life, and craft it full of adventure and happiness.

Next, I had to look at every person around me as a great resource.  My Peace Corps experience made me fiercely independent.  However, it’s a paradoxical independence, because I relied on a network of people – including children to meet all of my needs.  From the muchachos who would accompany me during my horseback riding trips to the neighbor whose dry ice froze my Jell-O pudding, the people around me helped me live.  Today, through volunteering, friendships, and professional relationships, I am able to continue to resolve my life situations.  Whenever I feel lost, I talk to someone.  This life change also offers a timesaving component, because I am not required to know everything or everyone.  The cousin of a friend, of a friend of mine, can live right next door, and be (or know) just the right resource.

Finally, I learned to pursue my interests fearlessly.  Maybe I am not great at anything, but if I am interested in something, I try it.  I commit to it.  I become involved.  This also helps me connect with a diverse group of people, which continually fuels a life of change and growth.  Peace Corps was my icebreaker to living.

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