Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Dear B26s,

It’s presumptuous of me to assume that any of you might actually read this, but, on the off chance that some of you do, I'm going to be even more presumptuous (some might say pretentious) and offer a bit of advice. Although I’m tempted to delve into more substantive issues, I’ll stick to the subject of packing since that seems to be a source of great consternation among many of you.

By now, you’ve undoubtedly received the Peace Corps’ suggested packing list and you’ve probably gotten suggestions from currently serving volunteers. Those lists are fine, but none of the lists I’ve seen mention the things you’ll need the most. As you’ll soon discover, Bulgaria is not a third world country. Apart from high-end electronics and certain name-brands (which tend to be unavailable or ridiculously expensive), much of what you think you need to bring is available here, and oftentimes it’s far cheaper than back home. And most of the things you can’t find here won’t fit in your suitcase or clear customs (e.g., your friends, your family, decent Mexican food). Enjoy them while you can. But there are some things which you can bring which will make your time here more rewarding and enjoyable.

Flexibility and Adaptability. You should be prepared to go wherever you are needed, and you shouldn’t assume that you will have much say in your job assignment and placement. The staff will do their best to place you at a site where you can be a successful volunteer. Regardless of where you're placed, once at site, you’ll need to remain flexible and adaptable to be successful and happy.

Curiosity and an Open Mind. You will be learning a new language, a new culture, and new customs. You’ll quickly discover that there is more than one way to do everything, and your way isn’t necessarily the right way. A desire and willingness to learn is essential.

Enthusiasm and Energy. Even the laziest among you will probably impress your Bulgarian colleagues with your drive and work ethic. Don’t despair if things don’t happen as quickly as you’d like or if those around you don’t possess the same sense of urgency.

Optimism. It’s easy to become cynical and pessimistic. Leave your cynicism and pessimism behind. Leave behind those rose-colored glasses as well. Blind optimism will do you more harm than good. You aren’t going to change the world. But you can make a difference - in a positive way. If you don't believe that, you might as well stay home.

Patience. The Peace Corps application process may have tested your patience. You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Confidence. You will fail far more often than you succeed. Your ideas will be discounted and ignored. You will be gawked at and leered at. You will feel isolated and ostracized. And, at times, it will take considerable strength and self-assurance to persevere.

Creativity. As your confidence wanes and your patience thins, you’ll need to rely on your creativity.

A Sense of Humor. You’ll almost certainly be bitten by fleas and awakened by crowing roosters, barking dogs, prying grandmas, and braying donkeys. And that’s just for starters. You better learn to laugh at these things, and yourself, or it will be a long twenty seven months.

Empathy and Compassion. You aren’t coming to work with the Lakers. The Lakers don’t need or want you. You’ll be working with the Clippers. The Clippers might not want you either, but, even though they probably won't admit it, they need you. The sooner you accept this and come to terms with it the better.

You might find these suggestions cliché and patronizing. I hope not. They're the things I wish I'd brought more of, and the volunteers who seem to be making the biggest difference and getting the most out of this experience have them in spades.

One last thing … Спокойно! Y’all were selected for a reason, and you’ll do just fine.

До скоро.


  1. Finally, the packing list I was really looking for!

  2. Thank you Brian. My wife and I look forward to meeting you.
    Aaron and Sara