Several years ago, there was a volunteer at my college. I mentioned her very briefly in this post about my site visit, back in 2011, when I found out that everyone in my town knew an American woman named “Connie.”
Connie was a Peace Corps volunteer in Armenia for 3 years. She lived in my host family’s house the entire time. She worked at my college. She had my Armenian tutor. She was an amazing person and did amazing things. She left a huge reputation to live up to.
When I moved to my permanent site in August, 2011, Connie was there visiting, staying with my host family. So my first two weeks as an official Peace Corps volunteer in Armenia (after being a trainee for 11 weeks) was spent with Connie showing me around, introducing me to everyone, and giving me advice.
She was a very nice woman, and I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with her. Seriously. I could see why everyone liked her, and it’s true–she did a lot for my town while she was a volunteer here. It was also true that I had huge shoes to fill, although my work assignment was completely different than hers. People still had ideas of what Americans are like based on Connie, and that included a good work ethic, a friendly personality, and a willingness to chip in and help wherever was needed. (Americans also love to take long walks, don’t like coffee first thing in the morning, and sit on the floor to put their shoes on, by the way.)
Over my two years in Armenia as a Peace Corps volunteer, I feel like my work spoke for itself. People no longer compared me to Connie; I had my own American personality and way of working. I left my own legacy at the college and I’ll be remembered for being “Evelyn, the IT volunteer,” not something like, “the volunteer at the college who’s not Connie.”
Recently, Connie came back for another visit. I was excited to see her. It had been two years, and I was eager to catch her up on all the changes that my town had seen since she had been away, and curious to compare our Peace Corps experiences, working with many of the same people. With her coming, I felt like I had come full circle. It was an appropriate conclusion to my Peace Corps service.
Of course Connie stayed with my former host mother while she was here. And she came to the college and re-acquainted herself with many of the teachers. She spoke to my counterparts and my Armenian tutor. Everyone remarked on her Armenian, which she used with relative ease, for not having been in Armenia for a few years. They remarked on the fact that she comes back to visit so often (this is her 4th trip back as a tourist). And they talked about how wonderful it is that she worked as a volunteer here in Armenia for 3 years instead of the normal 2 years.
I spent several afternoons with Connie, catching up and comparing stories. And again, I thoroughly enjoyed hanging out with her. She’s extremely interesting to talk to, and has a fun personality that was refreshing to see in Armenia.
But with her coming, I once again have to live up to her. Now my counterparts are saying things to me like, “Why don’t you stay 3 years, like Connie did?” “You’re going to come back to visit us every year like Connie, right?” and “You’re not allowed to forget how to speak Armenian. If Connie can remember, you can remember.”
Thanks, Connie. I’ve definitely come full circle.
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