Peace Corps Volunteers must be open to ideas and cultures different from their own and may need to modify their appearance or behavior appropriately. Give an example (between 250-500 words) of a significant experience that illustrates your ability to adapt in an unfamiliar environment. Please highlight the skills you used and the perspectives you gained. You may draw from experiences in your work, school, or community in the U.S. or abroad. Please list the date(s) of your experience.
“Planes, Trains, and Automobiles”
Growing up in Louisiana, we never took public transportation. As a result, I grew up with no experience in using trains, busses, or metro systems, and I never imagined myself ever using one. This all changed during my trip to Belize in June of 2006. After completing a five-week long archaeological dig, myself and three other students decided to stay an additional week and visit Guatemala.
After the dig, we were dropped off at the bus station following the instructions “Head towards Banque;” it all sounded so simple. The four of us enter the open aired station and look for a ticket counter, instantly realizing it did not exist. We immediately look for someone to ask and receive nothing but unwelcome looks. Fortunately, we find a semi-friendly vendor who is willing to explain the process to us.
Turing to look for our bus we see a row of brightly painted school busses; finding our bus we board it and take our seats. We didn’t see a schedule of arrivals and departures and knew the road system was not going to be as standardized as those in the States, so we were unsure of how long the ride was going to take us. Actually we were still pretty unsure if we were even headed in the right direction.
Finally on our way, the bus began making stops, where there were vendors selling snacks and trinkets through the bus windows. The combination of vendors shouting, the noise of the engine, the animals running free in the streets, and the smell of dry unsettled dirt, sweaty people and gasoline fumes made the whole experience quite chaotic. I was hesitant to even leave the bus for a bathroom break because I was unsure how long we would be stopped and did not want to be left behind.
As our trip continued, the bus became increasingly crowded, forcing many people to stand. The group of gringos seemed to be a spectacle to every person on board; so much of a spectacle that the discomfort was thick in the dusty air. My friend eventually awoke to a child petting his blonde arm hair, staring at him in curiosity and amazement. Yet as the ride continued our tension eased and we became more relaxed about our surroundings and lack of personal space. Finally after the uncomfortably long six hours in the overcrowded bus with no bathroom breaks, we reached the boarder of Guatemala feeling unsure of our new surroundings.
Looking back on this experience it amuses me how unprepared I was to use public transportation, especially in a foreign country. However, my perspectives on public transportation have changed greatly. I have become a confident, avid user of public transportation and less concerned with personal space or time efficiency. Two years later while in Peru, I was more than comfortable packing tightly into the small, overcrowded combis and only used the bus or metro while living in Washington, DC. My cross-cultural bus experience in Belize has not only impacted the way I travel but also how I view people of other cultures abroad and at home.