I was in high school when President Kennedy introduced Peace Corps. My vision was to graduate college and join, but alas, life happens. I fell in love, married, and had children, but becoming a volunteer was always in the back of my mind. Once I retired, I decided, it was my time to serve.
I am 25-30 years older than most volunteers. I experienced new cultures and new customs in each country, but one thing remained the same: the volunteers serving. We laugh and call ourselves government issued friends, but they actually turn out to be more like family. You may call on a Peace Corps Volunteer or Returned Peace Corps Volunteer and it will always feel like home even if you just met. I served in two countries, Ecuador and the Dominican Republic with two totally different experiences. Ecuador was more self-directed and Dominican Republic had more indirect supervision. Both countries were warm, hospitable and openly welcomed us. They taught me so much and I loved sharing our little customs with my communities like baking, Easter egg hunts, Valentine dances and Halloween celebrations. I love that even some of them still do a lot of these things.
I enjoyed every minute of my service. There were of course some lows. I was homesick and missed my family, but all else was a high: seeing the country, making new friends, learning from host families, and trying new foods. The best part was just visiting with the community.
End of service is very sad. You are happy to be home, but you miss your site, the country and your new country family. You bring home a lot of the foods you learned to cook, small customs and a lot of memories that always brings a smile to your heart.
I call my service “a never-ending story” because in my case, the people in these countries will always be in my heart and mind. I communicate with them on a regular basis, continue some projects and ideas we previously worked on, and I visit as often as I am able (yearly Ecuador, every other year Dominican Republic). I am now 70 years old and still thinking of another service, I continue with the medical missions that I started with in Ecuador and just living and loving life.