Identity- the fact of being who or what a person or thing is.
Ambiguous- open to more than one interpretation; not having one obvious meaning.
Here I am, almost one full year into my service as a Peace Corps Volunteer, and only one thing stands true: Peace Corps is a really, really good arena to allow yourself to feel vulnerable. I think the reason Peace Corps helps people “find themselves” is because it forces individuals to search for, find, and then challenge every ounce of their being.
June was a really big month for me. I went into Border-to-Border with Volunteers who had experienced it last year telling me that “BtoB is really service changing” and “gives a lot of meaning to your time here in Armenia”. Just before departing on my walk through half of Armenia I experienced heartbreak for the first time. Believe it or not, I believe I fell in love for the first time here in Armenia with an Armenian, and our separation as lovers was inevitable. I thought that walking an average of twenty kilometers a day for three weeks would help me get over my heartbreak, but I guess heartbreak isn’t healed with physical exertion or Adele. We were destined for failure because there were just too many cultural and identity aspects of ourselves we couldn’t get through individually and together. (Border to Border was service changing, by the way, and it really made me appreciate the geographical beauty of Armenia as well as its diversity in larger and smaller communities.)
I have always felt, as a Mormon-raised boy from Utah, that there were some parts of my identity that have always felt like a huge walk-in closet that I couldn’t get out of. In that closet, I have searched for many, many things about myself, and just when I think I feel comfortable with who I am as an adult human being- just when I think I have found the door to exit- I find myself in other new aspects of life that could metaphorically mean walking through that door to an extra closet added onto that walk-in closet in a mansion full of closets.
Coming to Armenia, I knew there were parts of my identity I couldn’t openly share or express with other Armenians for my own safety and simply to avoid cultural misunderstandings that would restrict my immersion at work and in my community. This was a challenge I was willing to accept as I was applying for Peace Corps, and it was something I talked seriously about with friends and my Peace Corps interviewer before embarking for Armenia. Some other aspects of my identity that had never truly been challenged- pieces of my identity that I never really considered my “identity”- came into light as soon as I entered Pre-Service Training.
I’m white– that’s obvious; however, I have never realized how easy life is as a white person not only in the United States but also internationally. I get a lot less unwanted attention being white living in a homogenous community. The concept of white privilege was something I was learning to acknowledge during graduate school and while living in Chicago.
I’m male and I choose to express my gender in the way that society has deemed appropriate for me. I have short hair, but because I am losing more and more hair every day, I don’t think this counts. Male privilege is obvious here in Armenia, and my whole perception of gender roles has been shattered and challenged since living here.
I’m a native English speaker. I have learned the value of the English language. Being a born and raised American, it’s impossible to realize the international value of English until you have actually been abroad. In 2016, what success can you have without knowing and having access to the language in which most of the world’s information is released and published? In Armenia, a small country where most nationals find success internationally, it is apparent how much English is valued here [in larger communities]. I have had many opportunities to speak on the phone with someone’s niece, granddaughter, or daughter because someone wants to show off that someone in their family knows English.
I am an American, and as an American who had never been abroad before Peace Corps, it was really difficult appreciating my citizenship because I never had to…because I had never been abroad. I have had people from all over the world tell me I “am so lucky because I can travel so easily because I have an American passport”, but then I feel guilty because I didn’t even have a passport until I had to get one for Peace Corps.
The reason I am saying I am challenged with my identities- and these are only a few of the most apparent ones- is because I can’t necessarily say I am “proud” of them. Because of selfish people [AKA: white, American, English speaking, men] throughout history, I have to truly figure out who I am as a person and not principally from the facts that I am a white, American, English speaking man. I have seen and witnessed the oppression that these identities have created for so many other identities all over the world. And I know, I know- not every white, American, English speaking man is evil or has inflicted evil on other identities; however, I must acknowledge the role these identities play in the universe as a whole, and how they, too, influence my experience in this world.
I must find where I fit in. Like in Peace Corps, you must find your niche in this community- I am still trying to do that. Like in life, you must find your niche in this world- I am still trying to do that.
I don’t like the word “identity” because it is, by definition, stating that who I am must be certifiable.
I am proud to be the ambiguous me.