A few months before leaving their country of service, each group of Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) has what’s called a “COS Conference.” COS stands for Close/Continuation-of-Service. I am part of Group 39 — the 39th group of PCVs to serve in Ukraine — and we had our COS Conference from 23-25 September in Chernihiv, the city not far from the village where my cluster and I lived during Pre-Service Training (PST). Over the two and a half day conference, we had sessions on: reflecting, giving feedback to Peace Corps, medical COS procedures, COS administrative procedures (i.e., get lots of papers signed), writing the DOS (Description of Service), getting recommendations from PC staff, RPCV (Returned PCV) services and benefits, resume writing, job searching, international career opportunities, readjusting to life after PC, and saying goodbye. I won’t go into detail about all of these sessions but I’d like to share some highlights of the conference.
One of our very first sessions at the COS Conference was about reflecting on our time here. Iryna, our amazing training manager and conference organizer/leader, asked us to think about a few questions and then gather in groups to reflect on four areas of our service. Here’s what the groups came up with:
- Questions to Consider
- How has Peace Corps affected me?
- Who were you before PC?
- What did you learn to do without?
- What became more or less important to you as your service went on?
- What do you now appreciate more or less?
- How has your world perspective changed?
- How have you changed?
- Impact on Sites (Professional & Individual)
- Professional Level
- increasing the level of English of our colleagues
- resources gained
- teacher trainings & grants
- encouraging colleagues to try new methods
- risk-taking –> gains
- bridging gaps between students–>teachers–>administration
- Individual Level
- new leaders emerge
- dreams/ideas become reality
- personalities are remembered
- cross-cultural bonding/trust
- sharing personal stories
- Professional Level
- Impact on Communities (Professional & Individual)
- networking — bringing people together
- inspiring creativity
- diversity — encouraging explorations of different cultures
- opening doors to new opportunities (FLEX, international programs, etc.)
- developing awareness of global issues (HIV/AIDS, human trafficking, etc.)
- PC Goal #2 (bringing the USA to Ukraine)
- making Ukrainians proud to be Ukrainian
- lack of communication & collaboration
- unclear expectations
- progressiveness (resources, opportunities)
- unwillingness to change
- social interactions
- red tape — dealing with authorities to do projects
- different social relationships (lack of professionalism)
- too much power in status quo — lack of initiative
- Lessons Learned (I was in this group)
- be persistent
- desire is not an option
- things can/will always change
- trust takes time
- trust your baba!
- failure is okay & success comes in many flavors
- embrace solitude
- have a thick skin
- be honest & open
- don’t assume
- resourcefulness & determination
- be your own advocate
- stay on your toes & be flexible
- you’re always being watched
- always carry toilet paper
“Tell a Story”
Throughout the conference, the PC staff — and Country Director, Doug — kept stressing how when we return home most people will ask us about our two years in Ukraine but not actually expect a detailed answer. They recommended that we think of a few short (1-2′) stories to tell that encapsulate/convey/illuminate some of our experiences during PC. I’ve thought of one potential story but am still racking my brains for others…
Words from Doug
Doug is the PC/Ukraine Country Director and he gave a short speech on the last day of the conference. I jotted down a few things that touched me:
- Peace Corps has three goals, but Doug has added his own “Fourth Goal,” which is personal and professional growth through service.
- Doug shared a great quote with us (he loves quotes) — I don’t remember who originally said it, but this is it: “It is strange how, when a dream is fulfilled, there is little left but doubt.”
- “Go beyond ‘should.'”
- “Follow your dreams, follow your passions.”
“Show of Talent”
Now that I’ve shared the serious stuff, here’s some fun. Adam and Theo MC’d a hilarious and eclectic talent show during one evening of the COS Conference. Here are some video highlights:
A singalong of “Bohemian Rhapsody” (sorry for my cold-induced low/cracking voice):
Matt, Amanda, and Molly led us in an American folk song:
Nathaniel sang/played a few songs, including this Russian folk song:
And last, but by no means least, Holden’s hilarious, super-clever rap about PC/Ukraine life: