What Should I Bring On My Peace Corps Adventure?

What’s on your Peace Corps Checklist?

Just recently a new friend of mine about to join the line of Peace Corps China volunteers emailed me asking what I wished I would’ve brought to China and things I wish I would’ve done. This was such a loaded question for me because there is a lot wish I would’ve bought, a lot I wish I didn’t, and things I wish I would’ve done, but didn’t get a chance. Quite honestly, it depends. That is the beauty of this whole entire lesson from Peace Corps. No matter how prepared you can or will be, there will always be something you wish you would’ve done differently.

To be honest, if I had to do it over again, I would do it all exactly the same way. I learned so much about myself and my perspectives changed immensely because of the things I didn’t bring, didn’t see, and didn’t do. In a way, I had to be innovative about those things and find new things and ways to enhance the experience. Being adaptable, was one of my greatest lessons. All experiences you will have in Peace Corps, good and bad, will change your life for the better if you let it.

On the note of things I wish I would’ve brought with me, this brings to mind a particular story about a time I spend on a farm in Sichuan. Before I start, I have to mention my father, who in his younger days, used to do a lot of hunting and camping. When I was in the process of packing three enormous suitcases full of “stuff” I thought I needed, he asks me, “do you have a sleeping bag?” I said, no because in my mind I’m thinking, where the hell would I put it in with all of this stuff. He leaves the room and returns shortly with a compressed sleeping bag so small I could it fit it in my suitcase. “You need this.” He said. “You never know what kind of conditions you’ll be sleeping in.” Dad was thinking in survival brain and I had no reason to argue that point because I really didn’t know what I was getting into. And down the road, I did end up using the sleeping bag, and that was an interesting story.

Volunteering Solo in Pi Xi’an, Sichuan

After about 6 months in China, it was time for our two-month vacation for the Chinese Lunar New Year. Peace Corps had mentioned something about volunteering on a farm, and I thought it would be a good idea. It was for a week, and you would eat farm fresh, stay in dormitory-style living arrangements, and help out on the farm. It was also in February, meaning, it would be cold. I signed up along with a few other volunteers, did my first trip to Beijing, and then came back to Sichuan to work on the farm.

All other volunteers dropped out and didn’t say anything to me, so I ended up going to the farm all by myself, and my Chinese had not quite developed yet. The owners of the farm did not speak any English, which I also didn’t know. It was a little intimidating and I really want to go home, mostly because I was scared of not being able to communicate. The common area for the farm was all open, with no doors, and there was no heat present. Everyone just bundled up. I spent the day wondering how people lived in this kind of cold, struggling to spit out the right words, and struggling to understand the people on the farm. I was so upset, it was a long day, and all I wanted to do was sleep. By the time I found sanctuary in the dorm, I couldn’t wait to get into the sleeping bag my father insisted I bring.

I got into the sleeping bag and waited to warm my freezing body up. It was 20 minutes later that I still wasn’t warm. I started to cry during my WTF moment and thought this would be the perfect time to Facetime my Dad and ask him what the hell kind of sleeping bag he sent me to China with. Once we got on the phone and told him what was happening, I heard him sigh with disappointment. He had forgotten to give me the second piece of the sleeping bag, the sleeve the fit in the back of the bag to keep cold air out. At that point, I was crying and laughing at the same time. My dad felt so bad for forgetting and then told me to roll a blanket up and stuff it in the back where the sleeve should be. After that, I was warm, safe, and ready for bed.

Among the many things I wish I would’ve put on my Peace Corps checklist, that was one of them, but it was out of my control, it taught me many things, and I still laugh at it today.

Things I wish I Added to my Peace Corps Checklist

There a lot of things I wish I didn’t bring and ended up leaving behind in China because that is just how much I changed in the two years I lived there. But if there was something I wish I could’ve brought with me, I wish I would’ve invested in a North Face winter jacket, a good pair of winter boots, pretty much the best winter gear you can find, because it ain’t getting any warmer in China during the winter. People don’t have central heating, so you will find yourself very cold in your school and even your apartment. I would also leave any business suits behind because your school’s definition of business casual is a little different than you would think. I’ve seen my colleagues wear very interesting clothing combinations.

Among the many others things I wish I brought, I wish I would’ve brought spices like rosemary, taco seasoning, sriracha, buffalo wing sauce, Himalayan salts, or an industrial sized tub of gravy mix. I even wish I would’ve brought more spiritual healing tools like sage, Incense, some tealight candles, sun-catchers, or crystals.

Think about yourself for a minute here. And think about the things that comfort you (and I’m talking about things other than alcohol – feeling the experience is the most important part). Think about the one or many things you have in your home that makes you feel good when you are having a bad day and add that to your Peace Corps checklist. It could be something as simple as a cup of coffee or your favorite book. It could be a warm blanket or a fluffy pair of sweats. It could be a material thing or it could be an action like a long run, a deep yoga sesh or a walk around the park. Whatever it is, write a list of things that make you feel good and starting pack those things accordingly. We are all different and we all have different ways of comforting ourselves after a rough day.

My advice is to pack light. You will take everything you have in a few suitcases 8,000 miles around the world, and you’ll have to carry those suitcases three times before you actually settle at your permanent site. You’ll even leave the country with more than you ever thought you would.

So, what should you bring? It depends! Get used to hearing that a lot.