The contents of this blog are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps.
Saturday, January 10 — We take-off on schedule from SEATAC International Airport and spend the next 11 hours chasing the sun to Japan. The Delta Airbus skips across the Pacific Ocean atop an invisible cushion of air, while the sun hovers above the wing outside my window. I pull down the shade to get a clearer view of the movie streaming on the display in front of me. My senses are dulled by the low-pitch whine of the aircraft. I lose all sense of motion, of time, of progress, slipping into and out of sleep.
There are 70 of us among the passengers onboard this Tokyo bound flight. We come together for the first time at a staging event in the conference room of a hotel in downtown Seattle. During an afternoon and evening of icebreakers and team building exercises, I learn a few names and begin to respond to faces. Who are we, and what are we all doing here?
Ten hours into our flight, I glimpse the edge of what must be the coast of Japan. I follow the movements of several large ships below us. From high above, activity on the surface seems unfurl in slow motion. We breach the airspace of the island and continue our descent over a patchwork of green fields, clustered dwellings, a few large warehouses, and vehicles making their way along mostly empty roads. It is not yet noon on a Sunday morning. I scan the horizon for a glimpse of the Tokyo skyline. With a thump, a wobble , and the roar of engines we are on the ground. Did I miss something?
Nine hours later we arrive in Bangkok. It is just after midnight, Monday local time.
* * *
After 10 weeks of language immersion and technical training (a story for later, maybe), 64 of the original 70 candidates, together with our Thai counterparts and a roster of official guests, convene in the reception hall of the Grand Dragon Hotel in Sing Buri City to celebrate our official swearing in – Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) Group 127, Thailand.
We hail from communities large and small, mostly along the edges of the country, with no apparent ties to America’s heartland.
NOTE: Underlying map modified by me to show distribution of volunteers by state based on my own calculations. Map source: https://www.google.co.th/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0CAcQjRxqFQoTCNfTjeXZlsgCFUpUPgodNwEJGQ&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.bikramyoga.com%2FbikramYogaUsaMap.php&psig=AFQjCNEX5pOCJPCdc-5AUDftWlPbJoFOSg&ust=1443423953597516
We are in our 20s mostly, with smaller contingents of 30 – and 60-somethings. The age profile suggests that for most of us the next two years will be one last indulgence before settling into a career. For the restless few, the run-aways, the seekers, Peace Corps offers an all-expenses-paid working adventure – no guarantees – and conjures hope for a new start. Senior volunteers may see their two-years of service as an opportunity to give back, an effort to help balance the scales of economic justice. Some of us are picking up the threads of discarded dreams. A few are just happy at this stage in our lives to be invited to explore new reaches of life and work – as equal participants, fully engaged, and on our own.
We are two-thirds female and predominately single. We arrived here with three married couples. Based on personal observation, more than three-quarters of us are white. Asian Americans slightly outnumber African Americans. And only about six appear to come from Hispanic backgrounds.
We are well educated. All have earned at least a bachelor’s degree. A third have completed master’s level programs. One has a PhD.
We are not a group of individuals who developed their views on the world at the country’s elite institutions of higher learning. Rather, we are the products of no fewer than 54 colleges and universities (some more than one) which most Americans would be hard-pressed to pinpoint within 100 miles on a map.
Colleges and Universities Attended by Volunteers
PCV Group 127 Thailand
|1||American University||28||Northwestern University|
|2||Arizona State University||29||Purdue University|
|3||Brigham Young University||30||Salisbury University|
|4||California State University||31||Samford University, Birmingham|
|5||California University of Pennsylvania||32||San Diego State University|
|6||Central Connecticut State University||33||San Jose State University|
|7||Clark Atlanta University||34||Soka University of America|
|8||Coe College||35||Stony Brook University|
|10||Eastern Michigan University||37||Tennessee State University|
|11||Emmanuel College, Boston||38||Texas Women’s University|
|12||Flagler College||39||University of Alabama|
|13||Florida Gulf Coast University||40||University of California Irvine|
|14||Franciscan University, Steubenville||41||University of California, Santa Cruz|
|15||Friedrich-Alexander-University||42||University of Connecticut|
|16||George Washington University||43||University of Florida|
|17||Georgetown University||44||University of Hawaii, Manoa|
|18||Gonzaga University, Spokane||45||University of Illinois at Chicago|
|19||Grand Valley State University||46||University of Maine|
|20||Howard University||47||University of New Hampshire|
|21||Indiana University||48||University of North Carolina|
|22||Lawrence University||49||University of Pittsburgh|
|23||Middle Tennessee State University||50||Villanova University|
|24||Monterey Institute of International Studies||51||Virginia Wesleyan College|
|25||North Park College, Chicago||52||Washington University at St. Louis|
|26||North Park University||53||Wheelock University|
|27||Northern Michigan University||54||Wright State University|
Our academic credentials span 21 fields of study. Educators and sociologists dominate our cohort. Most of us have experience and credentials in the humanities and social sciences. One of us left a career as a landscape architect. Another has put off an entry level position as a civil engineer. We have a mathematician in the group. Three have trained in various fields of business; yet another, in the field of public health management.
Since our swearing in ceremony and arrival on site, eleven additional volunteers have elected to return home for various reasons. This is PCV Group 127 today. Which makes me Klassenältester.