Daniel Lindbergh Lang
If I were still a Peace Corps Volunteer, this summer’s end would mark when my service would have finished. But nearly 18 months have passed since the abrupt end to my nine months overseas. I still want to return.
Last March, 7000 fellow Peace Corps Volunteers worldwide and I evacuated to the U.S. For many evacuated Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) like me, this year-and-a-half has challenged our abilities to commit to others while maintaining our commitment to the Peace Corps. Reinstatement seekers like me have faced a gamble every three months. When we evacuated, many hoped that we could return in summer 2020. Thus, we would only need to keep busy in the States for three months. Then our Peace Corps service would resume.
Almost as soon as we came back to the States, I received messages from my former host community members wondering if and when I would come back. I was an English teacher to them and, for some, the only American they knew. Many dream of seeing the States, living, working and studying abroad. They need requisite levels of English. So I often helped them practice their language, prepare for tests and share our cultures. I told them truthfully about my full intention to return. I intend to keep my word.
On the other hand, not long after we returned to the States, we received emails from the National Peace Corps Association (NPCA), the Peace Corps’s alumni organization. Although my cohort evacuated, we were RPCVs like all those who have served in the Peace Corps’ 60-year history. Older RPCVs welcomed us with support and compassion. Some were evacuees themselves in different eras.
In the spring of 2020, I attended webinars with fellow global evacuees through the NPCA to process experiences, share stories and plan our next steps. Given the abruptness of our return stateside and status as private citizens, legislators granted us RPCVs access to Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. Unfortunately, many states’ unemployment offices, including my own, had not created systems meant to handle applications from Peace Corps evacuees. My application and others’ went into limbo. The NPCA helped us to reach our representatives and find aid.
During and before my Peace Corps service, the NPCA had been doing battle to support and defend our organization. In the summer of 2019—when I was a Peace Corps Trainee—a congressman introduced a bill to defund the Peace Corps. RPCVs around the nation rallied to inform their representatives why the Peace Corps matters. Still, one-fourth of the House voted in favor of that amendment. My cohort remembered: The Peace Corps is only as permanent as our legislators allow it to be. Domestically, I had taught citizen advocacy for years through the American Legion’s Boys’ State program. The actions of those RPCVs mirrored the actions I taught others to take.
Since we had heard that October 2020 could mean our redeployment, I became an advocate within the NPCA. I learned to network with my state’s RPCVs and to arrange meetings with the offices of my U.S. representative and senator. Fellow RPCVs from across our state and I called into virtual meetings and shared stories from our service across many countries and many decades. Thankfully, Peace Corps offices worldwide remained open to reaccept volunteers when situations permitted. My cohort and I hardly ever questioned if we could return. We wondered when.
That October, we received word that the following January would be the earliest we may redeploy. In 2021, we read that we might return no sooner than the summer. We realized that we would have still more time in the States. Many of my Peace Corps peers moved on to graduate programs and other volunteer corps. Others leaned more into the Peace Corps. I am among the latter crowd.
This spring with the NPCA, I became my state advocacy coordinator to continue our work. I also maintained a virtual speaking club with members of my former host community. I have been meeting weekly with these people for over six months. Part of my reason to continue with the Peace Corps has been my strong belief in follow-through. From a practical standpoint, abandoning projects half-finished makes restarting them more difficult.
Yet, to me, returning matters most. Peace Corps service is about people, not projects. We form relationships with our community members. We form friendships. I would never willingly leave behind a friend if I had the choice not to do so.
This spring’s new U.S. Congress has meant a new season of advocacy for the NPCA. When President Biden released his budget that called for little new support for the Peace Corps, the NPCA worked to change minds. I arranged meetings not only with the offices of my representative and senators but also with our whole state’s congressional offices. After three months’ effort, fellow RPCVs and I successfully got meetings with staff members of each of our state’s representatives. In fact, Representative Dina Titus joined our call with her staff.
With every new responsibility I take amid the pandemic, I mention the caveat that when I receive my three months’ notice, I will leave. Since vaccination, my chief aim has been to be ready to return overseas with the Peace Corps. But that involves planning to hit a moving target. Indeed, during this interim, the Peace Corps announced short-term summer opportunities for volunteers to serve domestically. By then, I had already committed to serve again with Boys’ State, my original start in advocacy. While I yearn to have more control over these schedules, I remember again how genuine service often requires us to relinquish so much of our control.
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance expires this September. We heard from our directors that we might not reinstate until June 2022. Those of us who have sought reinstatement or reassignment hope on despite searching for temporary jobs. The Peace Corps has kept our legal and medical documents up-to-date. They have renewed our passports. Our redeployment seems in the cards. So, we work in the States and around the world. We await their word.
Daniel Lindbergh Lang is a Trustee and Outreach Advisor at The Overseas Dispatch. Originally from the Midwest and later southern Nevada, he graduated in 2019 from the University of Nevada, Reno with a degree in journalism with honors, emphases in public relations and advertising. A Returned Peace Corps Volunteer and past Critical Language Scholar, he also speaks both Mandarin Chinese and Mongolian. His written work has featured in the Journal of Teaching English for Specific and Academic Purposes, in the National Peace Corps Association’s WorldView magazine and in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He loves travel—especially when it involves intercultural communication, profound moments and spreading joy. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.