Yesterday evening, after a long day of orientation, my fellow Fulbrighters and myself were invited to attend the 50th anniversary celebration of the Peace Corp in Turkey at a diplomat’s house. Honestly, nothing really puts you in the mind set of feeling like a boss – at least from my own limited experience – like attending an official State Department garden party, complete with the press chief for the embassy, whiskey and wine on the rocks following freely, bountiful appetizers, and a podium that actually had the U.S. seal on the front of it.
I’ve never seen that seal on the podium – let alone be treated and pampered as I had last night. “I could get used to this,” I thought loudly enough to myself for a few other Fulbrighters next to me to drink along to that sentiment.
However, the feeling of being pampered and exceptional didn’t last all that long – especially once we started mingling in with the Peace Corps volunteers from fifty years ago. There was one man in particular, whose name I regrettably didn’t manage to catch, who saw a group of five of us huddled in the corner unsure of exactly how to act in situations like this . Smiling broadly, he approached us all and started praising us for our efforts in teaching English and acting as “citizen diplomats.”
Interested, we all asked about how his experience in Turkey was, as well as what he did after the Peace Corp. As soon as he began, we were all rapt in attention: going into the Peace Corp right after completing a Masters in Byzantine History he taught English in Turkey for two years at the start of the 60s. Returning home, he endured extreme culture shock as he completely missed the birth of the radicalism of the 60s, so he fled to Vietnam, Thailand, and Afghanistan to teach English.
While abroad, he told us, he became disillusioned with U.S. policy – especially since he was teaching in Vietnam right up til the Tet Offensive, and he first hand realized the purposelessness of war. Eventually, he returned to America with the goal of entering the State Department in a bid to try to shape future foreign policy into something less bellicose, and more along the lines of using “citizen diplomats.”
That’s when all of this really hit home – my being in Turkey, my representing America, my future efforts to teach English. This man was one of the most impressive people I’ve met, yet he was so humble – so willing to help. I’m sure underneath it all, he was the one who was truly feeling like a boss.