Monday, May 12, 2014

What is COS Conference?

COS is an acronym meaning “Close of Service,” and COS Conference is the last in a series of Peace Corps training workshops that we attend throughout our service. Specifically COS Conference is when we are trained on how to come home. It is our last chance to all be together at the end of this incredible 2 year journey that we embarked on together in Philadelphia 2 years ago. Mostly, it really is a training on what to expect in America.

Friday, in Cotonou we started off with opening remarks form our Country Director. We had an important session on what type of health care to expect, or to not expect, once we go back home – and what medical clearance we need to go through before we get on our plane. (Basically the same physicals we had to do in order to enter the Peace Corps have to be done again in order to leave). Followed by some security information, and a question and answer session with RPCVs who are currently working with various NGOs and living in Benin.

The RPCV panel was incredibly insightful. Hearing about stories of readjusting (or not readjusting) to American life. The things that were shocking to people as they returned home. How to answer questions, that we really might not want to answer... and how to tell if the person asking really wants an answer. And of course about finding work after Peace Corps.

Me with the EA Program Managers
[Photo Thanks to Sarah A]
In the afternoon we had an official luncheon where we were presented Certificates of Appreciation from the various ministers of the Beninese government (the Ministry of Environment presented them to the Environmental Action volunteers) – and then we packed up into buses and headed to the beach in Grand Popo for the rest of our information sessions.

I am not going to go into detail about all of the things we learned this weekend. In summary we talked about resume writing, interviewing, how to frame our Peace Corps successes in a way that is applicable to work in the US – we talked about our successes individually and also in sector groups (showing how much we accomplished as a group was really uplifting) – we talked about our concerns with the program (ie changes we would like to see for future volunteers) – how to say goodbye to our friends in village – how to address the fact that most of us might not ever come back to this place we have been living and building relationships in for the past 2 years – the types of questions (both good and bad) that we will probably be asked when we get home and how to respond to them – the perks of Peace Corps service (NCE and Fellowships) – Networking – Closure – and so on and so forth.

The moment during the weekend that I found most interesting was when we were handed back our “Aspiration Statements” that we had been asked to send to the office in Benin before our arrival in June 2012. At first I was impressed by how well I used to speak English – after that initial shock – I thought it was really great to be able to see how much I did and what things I didn't get to do. It was interesting to see how naive (not in an entirely bad way) most of us were – as we were heading into this new adventure.

For me personally, when I applied to Peace Corps, I applied specifically for Environmental Action and Environmental Education posts. I even turned down an offer to leave at an earlier date, if I was willing to switch to the Agriculture Sector. My aspiration statement whole heartedly reflects this. Which is interesting, since we really are an agriculture program – and I have spent my service working with farmers to improve their techniques and with schools to grow vegetable gardens. This isn't what I wanted to do, and it will not be my passion in the future, but I am glad I did it and I feel that I ended up serving where I was meant to serve. Even though I was not doing the work I expected to be doing, even at the point of my aspiration statement for Benin, most of the goals for myself and my service, are things that I did do and I did them successfully.

I think that it might sound silly – to most people at home to say that we needed to be trained to come back to the USA, but coming home is going to be hard. I won't know the technology, or the current fashion. A song might come on the radio that EVERYONE knows from last year or the year before – and it is very possible that I will never have heard it. People will have started and ended relationships – and I will have missed it. New jobs, and babies and even a few weddings have happened while I have been disconnected. So when we come home be patient with us – and be understanding if we don't want to constantly talk about our experience – or maybe if we do.Who knows what will happen.

As long as chocolate chip cookies and the going down the shore are still both things -- it will all be OK. It just might take some time – and if I am speaking in a language other then english – tell me because I might not realize it. If my clothes are funny... well that might just be something you will have to live with.


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