To Peace Corps, With Gratitude

Last Wednesday I said goodbye to my staff position at Peace Corps Headquarters in Washington, DC after nearly four years of work. It was bittersweet, but made easier by the knowledge that I only had about a year left on my appointment, and that I was leaving to accept my dream job in the Foreign Service. I was also comforted by the knowledge that I will be eligible to come back someday (after my time out equals my time in).

Although you can’t work for Peace Corps indefinitely, it is an organization that you never really have to leave. Once you are a part of the extended Peace Corps family, the experience becomes part of who you are and continues to shape your worldview and subsequent decisions. Or, at least it’s been that way for me, especially in retrospect.

Last Thursday, the day after wrapping up my work, I flew out to visit my family in my home state of California. I’ve been reflecting on how joining this incredible organization in 2002 as a Peace Corps Volunteer completely changed my personal and professional trajectory. I am overwhelmed with gratitude, because I know that without my Volunteer experience, it is very unlikely that my path would have led me to my husband, to live in our national’s capital, or to serve my government for the past 9 years.

Dear Peace Corps, thank you for not losing my application after it became stuck for weeks in federal mail screening and irradiation in the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks. Thank you for reviewing my qualifications and interests and placing me in the Republic of Macedonia. When I got the invitation packet in the mail on that summer day in 2002, opening it was one of the most anticipated and exciting moments of my life.

Thanks for the packing advice, the plane ticket, and paying for my hotel room at my Staging in Washington DC where I met my fellow trainees for the first time (through my relentless fog of motion sickness).

Thank you for the training, the site development, and the logistical and programmatic support while I was a Volunteer. Thank you for helping the staff get back up and running after two post evacuations so that they could support us, the new batch of incoming Volunteers – the esteemed MAK VII.

Thank you for the vitamins, the band-aids, the antihistamines, the family planning. Thank you for helping me when I had strep throat, and when I was sad and scared. Thank you for taking care of me through two medical evacuations, and my subsequent separation from service. I forgive you for the kinks and the moments I felt lost and abandoned; they weren’t entirely your fault, and I see all of the changes you’ve made since 2004.

Thank you for the Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) Mentoring Program, and for the invitation to come back and serve again in 2010: first with the Europe, Mediterranean and Asia Region and later in the Office of Volunteer Recruitment and Selection. Thanks for the nice desk, the sunny window, the comfy chair, the new computer, and the office supplies which I used as sparingly as possible. Thanks for the trust with sensitive information and agency records.

Thank you for the opportunity to be a part of the Leadership Development Academy and to travel to post in Panama City to conduct part of my team’s research.

Thank you for the transit benefits and later, the underground parking space.

Thanks for supporting the Green Team, and giving every employee a safe space to be exactly who she or he is, with no judgment. Thank you for the informative guest speakers in Shriver Hall that provided professional development and a chance to leave our cubicles for a little while.

Thank you, Peace Corps, for hiring competent and compassionate employees, whose dedication to the mission of world peace and friendship is unmatched. Thank you for sending me to San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Oklahoma City to support the agency’s training and Staging operations.

I’m so grateful for the chance to have served more than fifteen months as after-hours agency duty officer. That position taught me so much about crisis management and being prepared for anything. Thank you for empowering me, giving me latitude, and backing up my decisions.

Peace Corps, I know that everything you do needs taxpayer money, and I see how high your return on investment is. You are a shining example to all federal employees to also be good stewards of crucial taxpayer dollars. I would contend that one Peace Corps Volunteer in a foreign land doing their part to serve their country and provide assistance to our host country national partners is among our most valuable diplomatic tools.

Me and you, Peace Corps – we’ve had our differences in the past. But we’re family, and I love and appreciate you. I will take the lessons you taught with me, and continue to allow them to shape my worldview. I was so proud to serve with you. Thank you for believing in me.


June 18, 2014 – Last day at Peace Corps HQ

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Sarah W Gaer

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