Imagine being on an island in the Pacific Ocean for two years, with a people whose culture you are unfamiliar with, whose language you don’t know and whose habits you don’t necessarily like. What do you do? According to Nicholas Taylor, counselor at Highlands Ranch High School, you first adapt to it, then you change it for the better.
Taylor was a Peace Corps volunteer in the Republic of Kiribati for 2 years. He went to an island in the Pacific Ocean with absolutely no idea of where he was going or what he was intending to do there. Why? Taylor said, “ I wasn’t ready to settle down after college, wasn’t ready for a suit and tie job. So I decided to be a Peace Corps volunteer. I could choose either where I was going, when I was going, or what would I do at my destination. I wanted to go right then, so I chose that.” And that he did – he was sent to the Republic of Kiribati, where he managed to become an important and respected member of the community in just 2 years of volunteering experience.
Despite the fact that he always had a precarious position in Kiribati, somewhere between an youngster trying to prove himself and a respected elder, Taylor did important work there. He mainly focused on two projects: getting the locals to start regularly washing their hands and making them quit smoking a local type of very unhealthy cigarettes.
But how does one go about convincing a near-tribal culture to give up an ages-old tradition? Taylor said the key is making them feel like you’re one of them. “In the beginning, they were shouting ‘stranger’ in my direction, and scaring their children by threatening that I would take them at night, but after sometime, when they were calling me ‘stranger’, I was looking around and asking ‘Where?’ “. According to Taylor, by the end, even the mayor was considering him a close friend.
Of course, there is more to a volunteer’s work than simply “camouflaging” among the locals. But by his example, Taylor proved that as a volunteer, it is way easier to do what you’ve set out to do when you are collaborating with the natives, a lesson necessary for any future Peace Corps representative.
Vlaicu Motrescu, Guest Reporter