The Real Purpose of In-Service Training

Through the many PCV blogs I’ve read I learned that the first three months of Peace Corps service (after training) are typically the hardest. More people early terminate during this time (or think they’re going to) and culture shock creeps up until the PCV looks down and has either spontaneously lost 15 lbs (most men), gained 15 lbs (most women), and can’t remember the last time he or she spent a night totally sober. It can be a very trying time for someone, especially if he or she hasn’t traveled much abroad or experienced any form of culture shock before. Most PCV’s here are alone in their village and don’t always know the best way to cope.

Luckily it never got that bad for me, but I did experience culture shock to a degree that can only be paired with the last time I spent studying abroad in Prague. Whereas in Prague I never expected it, here I expected to fight it off and it still got me. Before I knew it I wasn’t sleeping well, became apathetic towards work and personal time, wasn’t controlling the way I ate (I’m usually pretty scrutinizing about this), and my homesick spells piled on top of one another so often they became the norm. I had unintentionally bottled up my emotions until one afternoon just before IST when weeks of stress manifested in the form of tears literally falling over my beer glass. I even experienced a week mulling over the idea of going back to the states, even though I knew my placement was one not to be taken for granted.

But that’s where the beauty of In-Service Training (IST) comes in. Just when we may think we’ve had enough, we are whisked away to another town for 2-3 weeks to reunite with our friends and, essentially, press the reset button. At the quirky and hospitable Oasis Motel in Gaborone, Bots 9 got together and shared experiences, relaxed by the pool, had our meals prepared for us, and sure, we sat through some boring (and some very interesting) presentations, but at night we went out for karaoke or salsa dancing or just hung out in someone’s room laughing and playing cards. I’m pretty sure we all had a blast.

oasis gaborone thumb

IST was exactly what I needed. I experienced a sense of gratefulness for my time here, and was really surprised when I came home after all that fun sincerely missing my house and my town – The Ghetto!*

So I’m a success story – a statistic that can be checked off as someone who got the most out of IST. Prior to IST I went through many of the same ups and downs most PCVs tend to go through, and, predictably, climbed out of IST ready to rock back at my site. I returned to site re-energized, in better mental and physical shape, and content with the work set out ahead of me.

So while IST presents itself as a “training” that focuses on language and job skills learning, it’s come to my attention that the real purpose behind IST might be to bring us out of culture shock. After IST, a lot of PCV’s report having an easier time back at site, and their chances of staying with Peace Corps the rest of the two years go way up. We were on lockdown before IST, meaning we could not leave our site, and while that rule frustrated most of us it makes sense to me now – the build up to IST is worth the wait and, I believe, produces a higher degree of satisfaction after IST is over.

*”The Ghetto” is another name for Francistown. It’s also known as “The Real City”.  I still think it’s funny I’m one of two Jewish volunteers in Bots 9 and they assigned me to live in the Ghetto.

One Response

  1. 2-3 weeks for IST! Is that the norm in Bots? In South Africa our IST was less than a week. The use the excuse that with over 40 PCV’s in a group they can’t afford more. Glad you had fun! And congrats on making it this far, now the real fun begins.

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