I left for China one year ago today and I returned home exactly one week ago. I spent just shy of a year there and left just over a year early. As my last, perhaps overly dramatic, post might have indicated, I ET'd. Despite having completed a full 2-year service in Romania, it's still considered an Early Termination when a transfer or extendee leaves early. Oh well. This will most likely be my last post here at thepickupsticks, but will certainly not be the end of my blogging life. I'll start a new blog in the near future to help me get through grad school and the post-PC life I lead and if you're at all interested in reading it, just send me an email (found in my profile) and I'll pass along the address. Don't be shy.
When people ask me about my site and why I left, I've found that it is very difficult to explain exactly what went on there. So many tiny details and a few big issues led to my decision. A volunteer currently serving in Romania is thinking about transferring to China and asked me for my thoughts about it, and here's what I wrote to him.
"...So let me explain a little bit about why I left. One of the hardest things for me to adjust to was the difference in the way the program was managed. I'm not sure how Sheila manages volunteers as a CD because I left about three months after she arrived, but the CD prior to her was Ken Goodson and he was an amazing CD and friend to me and just about all of the volunteers. Under him, the program focused mainly (at least in my opinion) on keeping the volunteers happy because they knew that happy volunteers meant productive, dedicated volunteers.
In China, it feels much more like the program's goal is to keep the schools and the government pleased and satisfied and will sacrifice the volunteers' experience and happiness in order to do so. In some ways, the program has its hands tied there because of the delicate nature of the relationship between the US and China. We basically have to do whatever China asks us to, where in most other PC countries, the US makes the decisions. Because of this, concerns and questions brought up (to the staff by volunteers) are generally shot down and there is little room for discussion. Only when I told them that I was planning to ET did I feel supported, which is not how it should work. Of course, this is all just from my experience. There are plenty of volunteers there who are quite happy, but the volunteers who are unhappy have no one on staff to talk to or receive support from other than the PCMO, who even then has to go through a rather generic protocol in an attempt to address issues.
Issues with the staff may not have come up for me if it weren't for my site - the real source of my unhappiness and ET. There's a major change happening in the college system in China. Most of the colleges and universities want to expand, but can't afford to do so at their current campus, so they're moving the entire university to brand new facilities. In many aspects, this is a good thing - more room for students, new equipment, better facilities, but it sucks for volunteers because the locations of these new campuses are often very remote and far from the original campus and city center, leading to a lack of community, an amplified sense of isolation and making all three goals of the PC unnecessarily difficult to fulfill.
Another surprise to me was getting placed at a three year, third tier vocational school where the majority of students are training to become automobile mechanics and have very low-level English and very little interest in improving it. (China's program is generally advertised as a future-English-teacher training program.) Turns out, luckily, that I love teaching and enjoyed that challenge, but having students who aren't academically driven or motivated to learn English, and therefore not interested in spending any time outside of the classroom with me, made that brooding sense of isolation and pointlessness even more intense. Combining that with the location of the school led to a depressed volunteer. I'm sure, though, that there are volunteers out there who could handle that situation admirably.
In short, my whole situation just didn't work for me. I'm pretty sure that if I had been placed at just about any of the other sites, I would have been ok. But who knows, it's pointless to ponder that. I loved teaching, but I needed more, as I think all volunteers do. We want a community to wander around in, where we can find people with whom to interact and make close friendships. We want students with whom we can bond and make connections, and none of that happened in the first year, so I left, especially after having such a great experience in Romania..."
So that's the heart of my ET, plus a multitude of other more minor issues. I am not attempting to dissuade anyone from joining the Peace Corps or going to China or transferring there, just wanted to be honest with my experiences. The Peace Corps can be an amazing experience; it was for me my first time around, I now realize. But 1/3rd of volunteers do ET and I now understand more completely why.
And, after a week of being home, there isn't a bone in my body that regrets leaving. I've seen more blue sky and sun in the past week than I did over the entire past year. I've spent time with friends and family and, though I feel a bit out of sorts a good deal of the time, the overbearing emotion is happiness, which feels wonderful after so many months of down. I don't regret transferring, it showed me that I do love teaching, but I don't regret leaving, either. Not a bit.
Here's to happiness. May we all be strong enough to find our own.