Carly Siuta is an alum of the University of Illinois at Chicago. She currently serves as a Community Health Empowerment Facilitator with the Peace Corps in Naroi Village, Moala Island in Fiji’s Lau island group. She works with a health facility, schools and various community groups to promote healthy lifestyles on the island. Before joining Peace Corps, Carly served in City Year Chicago from 2006-2008, and worked on staff at City Year Chicago from 2011-2014. If you’d like to learn more about her experience in Fiji, check out her blog.
I am currently six months into my Peace Corps service in Fiji. I know this may sound like a vacation...it’s true that my life here is really great but my home in Fiji is probably quite different from what you imagine. My husband and I live in a village on a small (population 1500) outer island. While there are palm trees and beaches, there are no resorts, no tourists, and very few modern amenities. We live right next to the sea, we have electricity for only a few hours per day, we grow and forage much of our food. My life in Fiji couldn’t be more different than the life I left in Chicago, and I’m incredibly grateful to have this experience.
My service with City Year helped me prepare for my Peace Corps service in many ways, and I’ll focus on two things that might not be the most obvious ones. First, serving with City Year is a valuable cross cultural experience. I had lived in Chicago for several years before joining City Year, but as a corps member I went to communities I had never before seen and met people in my city whose lives are completely different than mine. This deeply affected me; it changed the trajectory of my education and career. Some City Year corps members move across the country to serve, some serve in the city they call home but build strong friendships with teammates from different backgrounds. In whatever form, every corps member is immersed into a new culture, and everyone learns and grows from this. Even though I have lived in a foreign country, I used City Year as my example of cross cultural experience for my Peace Corps application essay. Sure enough, I use the same skills here every day. My community in Fiji could not look more different than where I served in Chicago, but the process of building relationships, understanding a community’s challenges, and gaining credibility as an “outsider” is much the same.
Secondly, in my Peace Corps service I find myself really appreciative of City Year's unique approach to leadership development, the Idealist's Journey. Based on the idea that service and personal growth are inherently linked, the Idealist’s Journey provides corps members with the time, space, and framework to reflect on your own transformation while you serve. Whether you’re in a high-need school in urban America, or in a small village in a developing country, it’s easy to stay focused solely on the work - there’s never a shortage of things to do. When thinking about next steps after your service ends, you list the bullet points of skills and knowledge you can add to your resume. But there’s a deeper level of growth that happens during service, if you’re willing and able to pay attention. Service stretches, challenges, and changes who you are. It humbles you, it pushes you to face your biases, to question your basic assumptions, to get over yourself, to truly think about who you want to be and how you want to be in this world.
City Year helped me develop the practice of reflection, of paying attention to my own inner change. Peace Corps has given me an amazing opportunity to expand it. Fiji has a strong tradition of talanoa - sitting, talking, and laughing together. Every day when I talanoa with my friends and neighbors (often catching the breeze by the sea or the shade under a mango tree) we share experiences, make jokes, and talk candidly about our tough questions. I have learned so many important lessons here about identity, family, community, caring for others, needs vs. wants, generosity, humility, acceptance, and happiness.
I’m still in the early stages of my Peace Corps journey and I’m not done changing yet. I have many more lessons to learn over the next eighteen months. I don’t yet know what I’ll do once my service is complete, but I feel like these lessons are the most important things I will carry on with me. No matter where I end up, I will be better in the world because of my opportunity to serve.