When family and friends say goodbye to someone joining the Peace Corps they expect him or her to return in two years or longer with a lot of stories, maybe some interesting clothes, a plethora of pictures and perhaps a different view on life. It's natural to assume a Peace Corps Volunteer will go through some changes. For a few volunteers that change can include coming back to America with a husband or wife!
The volunteers I spoke with didn't plan on traveling halfway around the world to find love, but the universal emotion that binds two people together knows no borders.
Mary Duggan is from Duxbury, Massachusetts. She is the fourth born out of eight children and the first of four girls. Her compassionate, insightful and humorous demeanor made her a perfect fit to work with young people in America. She wanted to advance her fervor for kids in the Peace Corps.
As Mary adjusted to life in a tiny village outside of the capital of Botswana she met her fiancée. She recalls their first encounters, "I had been in my village for about a week when we met. During that time my focus was to integrate and greet everyone. I was not looking to start a relationship whatsoever, even though his smile was captivating and I had a hard time getting it out of my mind. Over the course of three months we passed one another casually from time to time."
Eventually a relationship began and grew quickly. Mary had to make a decision that a lot of Peace Corps Volunteers in relationships experience. She said, "From the moment we took the leap to start a relationship I was wondering if it was the right thing to do. Everything is moving faster than you would expect and you're always wondering if you should bow out to save feelings even though the love is growing or just continue and see where it goes. It got to a point where I had to stop thinking about the future and just live in the present. It was too hard to try and picture my life without him when I had to leave but it was equally hard to picture our lives together beyond the strange world of Peace Corps life. Those questions were not allowing us to be happy so we decided to just be together; to enjoy every day, to fall more and more in love and to live in the now."
They dated for over a year, then he proposed to her in his garden, which was the very first place she had ever seen him. Introducing a partner to family can always be nerve-wracking. Both Mary and her fiancée have big families. Some of Mary's family and friends were able to meet her fiancée in Botswana and immediately embraced him. She got the same feeling from his family. They are getting married in May and Mary's parents will be coming for the celebration.
Even supportive families can ask interesting questions about international love. When Mary told her mom her future husband would be moving to Massachusetts her mom asked if he would be killing all of the family's chickens. Mary assured her all would be ok.
A lot of people assume Peace Corps Volunteers are more prone to fall in love because of the isolation and adjustment they experience. Mary said, "Every case is different, every relationship is unique and no one can decide what's too fast, what's real and what true love is but those experiencing it themselves. I have been so lucky to have a wonderful person to share my experiences with here. Someone who has helped me through some of the toughest things I have ever faced. We didn't fall for each other out of necessity, we fell for each other because we were meant to. No amount of distance from my family, friends or even a nice slice of pizza can force me to falsely feel the love I feel for him."
Kyle Turk is from the little town of Alice, Texas north of Corpus Christi. His passion for economic development led him to join Peace Corps twice. The first time was in Mexico in 2006 and the second time was in Botswana in 2010.
With the college nickname, "wild Turk," he felt his friends and family assumed he would meet his future wife in a different country. He said, "Being from a conservative Texas background my friends and family did go through an adjustment period when I first joined Peace Corps. I don't know if it is just people close to me or a Texas thing, but the overwhelming majority of people I know are married and most of them with kids. Since I carried this international bachelor label for so long people didn't believe I would ever get married, but when they heard I was and it was to a beautiful African woman they figured that would be the only way I'd ever get hitched."
Kyle married his wife in January. Needless to say everyone close to both of them have been widely supportive of their union. Kyle offered this perspective on love, "Volunteers get married for the same reasons, wrong or right, as American couples do. I truly believe everyone is 90 percent the same. We all have parents, suffer in-laws, like sweets, have babies, clip toe nails and enter into relationships with other people. I think a good Peace Corps Volunteer knows this. So for that volunteer, the 10 percent that makes one unique such as their culture, disposition and tastes becomes refreshing bonuses."
Jillian Pintye is from New Jersey. She's a fierce researcher that is driven by her wonderful curiosity about humanity. Before joining Peace Corps she was a Fulbright Scholar studying public health in Denmark. She came to Botswana in 2009 and decided to extend for a third year and work with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Like a lot of volunteers she didn't imagine herself finding a husband in Botswana. She said, "I remember meeting current Peace Corps Volunteers that were dating local citizens during our training and thinking "that is not going to be me." It took quite some time to even allow myself to be open to dating in Peace Corps. Three years later, here I am!"
Making a decision to bring a spouse with you to live in America can be difficult. Jillian had the chance to see how her fiancée might be able to adjust. She said, "I've always planned to return to the U.S. after my Peace Corps service to continue my graduate education. It was important to me that he experienced the U.S. before we made a critical life decision to get married. We had the opportunity to travel to the U.S. together for a month and spent a significant amount of time with my family and friends as well as acquainting him to life in the U.S. After our trip, I knew we could go and live a happy life together there."
Meeting a fiancée can help lessen the concerns friends and family have about the decision to marry someone from another country. Jillian shared, "Although everyone was happy for us, they also wanted to make sure that I had clearly thought things through and I wasn't making a rash decision. I respected and appreciated their concern and over time, especially after our U.S. trip, they came to realize it was a decision I was making with my head as well as my heart."
She agrees with Mary that the isolation from Peace Corps didn't lead her to love, "Peace Corps Volunteers encounter situations we aren't used to, which makes us open to experiences we normally wouldn't be as open to. One of the implications of this is meeting and experiencing new people. Love seems like a normal result of that. I think it is more about having access to different people and experiences and being open to the possibilities than loneliness that leads to love in the Peace Corps."
The next time you say goodbye to someone joining the Peace Corps remember they could be coming back with more than some awesome stories.