Peace Corps Journal Entry 2 – On the Ground

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.

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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.

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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.

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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
9 CSU Stanislaus 36 SUNY
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.

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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.

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About Dennis Pastore

Dennis Pastore serves with the Peace Corps in the Ban Khai district, Rayong province, of Thailand helping to teach English to elementary and middle school students at Wat Huanghin School. A former economist with the Economics and Statistics Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce, he has also taught history and German as a foreign language at high schools in Maryland and Massachusetts.
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