Bong Tony, when you came here you were like a child but now you are like an adult

That was my 6 year old host brother being accidentally philosophical at dinner last night. It was ironic coming from him; physically I haven’t changed much during my nearly 2 years here whereas I’ve watched him grow up. I was here for his first day of school, watched him lose baby teeth, get taller and all sorts of other things that come with growing up.  Now, I’m assuming he was probably saying that physically I look older but I interpreted what he said a different way. He’s right, I am much more of an adult now after experiencing everything I have been through over here. Sure I was a 23 year old college graduate but I was just a giant naïve child; I had never experienced anything like this before. When you apply for Peace Corps you don’t fully understand the impact that it will have on your life. I went into it thinking I would be changing lives, saving the world and doing all these great things when in reality, the results of my work here are not immediately apparent and I’m the one whose life is being changed. During our training they told us that we would get more out of this than we put in and it’s true. No matter how many great things we do over here as volunteers, this experience is going to stick with all of us for the rest of our lives and it is going to change the way we operate and the way we see things.

My views on the world and opinions on things have slowly been morphing and taking new shapes since I arrived here. I didn’t just wake up one day and think, boy I sure do feel like a new person today, these changes have been slow and steady.  When I sit down and think about how I viewed things when I was living in America I can see a clear and obvious change. It’s like I’m Tony 2.0. As I get closer and closer to my return to America (100 days till I have to go home as I type this) I steadily get more anxious how Tony 2.0 will accept America and how America will accept me. One would think that the prospect of going home would get me really excited and pumped up, but honestly it’s scary. I would have to say that right now I am more nervous to come back than I was to leave America the first time. I assume the nervousness will change to excitement as the time draws nearer but that’s how I feel now. There is going to be the obvious rejection stage at first when I’ll just want to run away and I’m not really sure what will happen after that.  I know that most all of my family and friends will never be able to fully understand what I went through here but that is a fact that all of us volunteers have to deal with and we are prepared for it. Just like adjusting to Cambodia, I’ll have to adjust to America.

Recently seeing things I’ve seen in the media about silly American happenings or running into American tourists makes me angry and sometimes even embarrassed to call myself American. Most Americans don’t know just how good they have it and they take everything for granted. Just a quick glance thru Facebook or Twitter gives you a great sample of all these fake problems that people think they have.  After the anger passes I realize that not too long ago I was one of those whinny, complaining Americans. I mean look at me now, I’m complaining about complaining.  I was just lucky enough to be chosen for this amazing experience that helped put things in perspective and afterwards I can share my experiences to maybe change other people’s views. Don’t worry, I’m not going to sit you down and lecture you about how there are starving children everywhere so you should finish all your food or try to make you feel shame for having luxuries, even I want to punch those people, but I won’t be shy about occasionally reminding you of how good you have it. I’ve always tried to keep a positive attitude about all of the things I’ve been blessed with in my life. If something goes wrong I think, yeah this sure does suck but you know what, it could always be worse. If millions of Cambodians can lose their families, homes and everything that is important to them and still march on with their heads up, I think you’ll be fine even if the Starbucks man forgot to add that extra shot of espresso.