Perhaps we were crazy to think that the transition to law school and full-time teaching would be less tumultuous than our experience as Peace Corps Volunteers. We had a misguided notion that we would be “settling down” back home in the States. But it turns out that our life in Sacramento is just a continuation of the rollercoaster ride we were on in the Peace Corps.
Every month/week/day has intense emotional highs and lows. Recently Tim and I have been surprised at how parallel our lives run. At school we can feel elated that we did something right on any given day (by giving a correct recitation in class or getting positive feedback from students) and then a few moments later feel clueless, and ineffective when we either aren’t prepared enough or experienced enough to deal with a certain challenge. One moment we will have to cope with harsh criticism from professors and administrators and the next moment our work will be singled out and praised.
Back in Guyana we relied on our peers and amazingly supportive network of family and friends (both in country and back home) to help us through tough times. We are doing that now but even our support networks sometimes feel like they come with ups and downs. Sometimes law school can feel so isolating because my classmates and I have our heads in our books constantly and when we do get some free moments to interact our exchanges are intense, filled with mixed emotions of guilt at taking time away from studying, the need to vent and process the stress we are under, and the natural drama that arises in the bizarrely intimate community of a classroom filled with 60 strangers. Sometimes it feels like we are all so busy and self-absorbed (and rightly so) that we don’t have the chance to found any meaningful relationships. On the flipside there are moments when I feel like the friendships that Tim and I are forming are like the ones we made in Peace Corps: solid as a rock as a result of necessity and shared circumstances.
Last week, I was feeling particularly nostalgic for my Peace Corps community and feeling quite alone at school. It made me particularly sad because something we promised ourselves that we would bring back from Guyana was the value of creating and sustaining a close-knit community, even here in the United States of Fendforyourself. But law school is not a collaborative community. People are getting stressed over exams, competitive for the best grades, scholarships and research assistant positions. On the outside people seem like they are getting along but are often (not always) focused playing a competitive game to try to get a step ahead of the rest. Not willing to play that game or participate in cliquey socializing, I felt like I was just a solo little leaf blowing in the wind last week.
But I can’t help but remember my Peace Corps training. Any new endeavor will follow the readjustment cycle and when we acknowledge that it is totally normal for our initial feelings of excitement to wane into feelings of isolation and disillusion it helps me push through because I know that it is just a natural phase that will get better with time. It also helps to remember if we want a sense of community, we have to be active. So we took matters into our own hands.
On Friday night we had some friends come over for an early afternoon BBQ. It was so nice to be social with a group of my law school friends outside of the classroom setting. We played lawn games in the backyard before it got too cold and dark, grilled up a delicious steak and did our very best to get to know each other and not talk about law school (much). It was lovely. Later that evening, because the world knew I needed a quick fix of Peace Corps community, one of my PC Guyana buddies (who now lives and works in Chico) stopped by for a visit! It was so much fun to play the same old Guyanese card games and catch up! Yay for staying connected!
Saturday night we went over to another colleague’s house to watch scary movies. Then this morning I got sworn into Phi Delta Phi (a legal honors society). The initiation ceremony was a great reminder that even though we are all busy, there are opportunities to create community, be social and still work hard to hone the skills that will serve us, and our future clients/students in the future.