What might my life be like, if I hadn’t gone off to Ukraine with the Peace Corps? This question ran through my mind every single day I was there. I thought about it for hours upon hours. I’d sit on trains thinking about it, staring out at the Ukrainian countryside and sweating because everyone refused to open a window on the sweltering Summer days. I’d huddle up under blankets thinking about it during the long cold Winter nights. I’ve given the question more thought that most would deem healthy because in the end, it’s all just speculation.
Here’s how I think it might have gone down.
A week before I got my invitation to Ukraine, I had landed a job as a website programmer at an art company in Madison. I was elated. It had nothing to do with anything that I studied, only what I had done as work and a hobby. I would have worked at that job for a while, before moving on to something bigger and better in the same web development field. When I start doing something, I like to stick with it for as long as I can. So today, over three years later, I’d still be a web developer and I’d be enjoying it but also questioning nonstop if I was actually good enough to be getting paid to do it. I always felt like I was cheating people who paid me to work on their websites because there were far more qualified people in the world to do it. But, nevertheless, I’d stick with it so someday I could stop questioning it.
If I hadn’t joined the Peace Corps, I would still be living in Madison. I wish I could be living there now because I love the city and so many of my friends are still in the area. I wouldn’t have to worry about making new friends. I wouldn’t be waking up in the morning and driving to work, staring at a skyline I truly do not like. Instead, I’d be waking up in the morning, living in the skyline and biking to work because it’s a better way to live.
At the beginning of the Summer before I left for the Peace Corps, my college girlfriend broke up with me. She said it was because I was leaving. Half of my wonders if that was an excuse to break up with me and make it easier for herself, and the other half of me wonders if it really matters because I can’t see us together today. We may have made it to the end of the Summer before the relationship boredom sank in. Then I would have been single for a while before finding the courage to ask another girl out. That may have lasted and it may not have. Either way, I don’t know if I would be dating the wonderful girl I am now, though we still would have crossed paths.
Had I not joined the Peace Corps, I might never have gotten out of Wisconsin. I might not have travelled and I might not consider myself a world traveller. I would never have been moved by the atrocity of Auschwitz or blown away by the beauty of St. Mark’s Cathedral. I may never have met Betty and fallen in love with her as she gave us a walking tour of Granada. Without Peace Corps, I would never have met so many welcoming Ukrainians. I would never have found such a good friend in Lyuda. I would not be a dummy, or Beans, or Zawacki-face. I wouldn’t have spent many days and nights coping with loneliness and homesickness. I wouldn’t have had to deal with coming back which was just as hard as going and I don’t expect most of you to understand how, but it was.
Peace Corps happened, and it was the most real thing to happen to me. I can guess on what things might have been like had I not spent 27 month devoting my life to other people, but it won’t ever be known if I’m right or not because I made the best decision of my life.