As I enter my mid-20s I have started to realize I am no longer a carefree college student with no responsibilities other than waking up, going to class, studying for exams, conducting research, and the occasional rugby match and partying/enjoying life. It has been two years since I graduated college with a Master’s degree in Materials Science and Engineering. My! how time has flown by! And as most people like to point out (though I disagree with them- I still have a almost a year (half of my service!) left) my time as a Peace Corps Volunteer is winding down. Apparently it is time to start thinking about getting back to “real life”. As though, what I am doing now is not real. Not life.
According to most, getting back to real life is getting a job in my profession. Most people keep insinuating that I should start applying for jobs in the nanotech field. Some aren’t even subtle about it. Because that 9-5 job, where you do meaningless, menial, mundane tasks is real important and is making a huge difference in the world. I just don’t see how that is any more real than what I am doing. One thing is for certain, and that is that “real life” is easier and much more comfortable and stable than this life I'm living now. But comfortable and stable also means boring. Some imply that I need to stop running from my responsibilities. But, in fact, I have more responsibilities here as a peace corps volunteer than I ever did at home.
Most of my friends graduated and have started their careers; some have really amazing jobs, some make tons of money, some moved, some stayed, some got engaged, some got married. Since joining the Peace Corps, I have missed or will miss 3 of my very best friends’ weddings, and 4 other close friends’ weddings. Is this what real life is? Graduating, getting a 9-5 job, getting married, buying a house, having a mortgage, having a kid? If so, I do not want anything to do with being a real adult in real life. Who says that what I'm doing is not responsible or real or that I'm not living an adult life? I pay my rent, my bills, cook everything from scratch, clean and wash by hand, teach children to read, teach adults IT skills, started a library, all while doing it alone. I have no one to rely on, except myself. At least in real life you have family and friends close by.
I deal with real issues every day. I deal with students who are abused, starving, and cant read, some who quite possibly have no future. I have to manage my finances so that I have enough money by the end of the month to eat, forgoing for a bottle of cheap white rain shampoo). I'm sure most of you in the “real world” aren’t making decisions such as: should I eat my sandwich today or give it to the starving student who helps me in the library? What should I do about the child that tells me they are being sexually abused? What do I do about addressing discipline issues without resorting to corporal punishment, when that is all the students will respond to? What do I do about the student who can’t come to school because she needs to watch her younger siblings? What do I do about the student who can’t afford pens, pencils or notebooks, and stops coming to school so he can work to provide for his family instead?
I'm not saying that there aren’t real issues in the States too, or that having a 9-5 job, starting a family, etc. is any less significant, but I just wish that I didn’t have to constantly explain myself and my choices. This is real life. If I were avoiding “real life”, I most definitely would have chosen something much easier.