November 1, 2000 - Personal Web Page: A Letter to Incoming Tongan Peace Corps Volunteers from aul W. Neville, Group 58

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Tonga: Peace Corps Tonga : The Peace Corps in Tonga: November 1, 2000 - Personal Web Page: A Letter to Incoming Tongan Peace Corps Volunteers from aul W. Neville, Group 58

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A Letter to Incoming Tongan Peace Corps Volunteers from aul W. Neville, Group 58

A Letter to Incoming Tongan Peace Corps Volunteers from aul W. Neville, Group 58

A Letter to Incoming Tongan Peace Corps Volunteers

To aspiring Tongan PCVs:

Where the heck is Tonga? Oh, in Africa?

No that's Togo! T-O-G-O, not Tonga, T-O-N-G-A! We all went through it, and sorry guys, you'll probably be clarifying that one for the rest of your life.

Right now your mind is either racing or numb. Probably nowhere in between. You haven't heard much about this place. You're wondering what you've got yourself into? You have no idea what to expect. Is this really happening!? Yes, and here are a few hints to set your mind at ease:

You will miss people, particularly that special someone you've left behind, but you'll do fine communicating through snail-mail, Email, and an occasional phone call. Sorry to say, but you must de-emphasize your Email dependence. Public Internet outlets in Nuku’alofa come and go. If there does happen to be one that has managed to stay open when you get here it will no doubt be very expensive. I am working on getting Internet access to my project, The Western District Youth Hall and Computer Center, but that is way out in Kolovai. The single Email terminal provided by the Peace Corps in each of Tonga’s island groups must be shared with one account/address and does not have access to the Internet. Snail-mail remains the most common and, arguably, the best mode of correspondence. Tell people to write to you ASAP so you will have a few letters waiting for you here when you arrive. Heck, write yourself. Letters are like gold.

Anyway, twenty-seven months isn't that long. You'll see people again at home soon enough. If your relationships are strong, they'll hold. Besides, by the time your service is complete you'll probably think to yourself, ah, I can stand to be away a little longer. Then you'll cash in your homeward-bound plane ticket and exchange it for an around-the-world fare, heading home, but in the other direction. But, that's another adventure…

Now, tips on stuff to bring. You must step out of the mentality of material abundance and realize that human survival can exist on surprisingly little. I'm sure you know this by now from that television show that we hear has caused so much mania in the rest of the world. We missed the phenomenon here in Tonga, but we are aware of it because we've gotten to know the crew and some of the cast in the next series of Europe's version of Survivor (Cast Away) that is being filmed here in Tonga - shh!.

The universal packing list in your Welcome Packet is excellent. I have a few additional comments. Don't waste too much of your weight limit on books, office supplies (i.e. paper), kitchen utensils, socks, or shoes. We have a decent book exchange collection in the Peace Corps lounge. You'll wear sandals or US$1.50 flip-flops 99% of the time. Shoes are only good for jogging and trips to New Zealand. It's ok to bring contact lenses and CDs. Bring envelopes that are non-stick. Grab a couple of good quality duty free bottles in the airport(s). If there is room, a couple nice extras are your favorite pillow and a good kitchen knife. Yes, people have brought their laptops and digital cameras. However, we have yet to see MP3 players or Palm-Pilots (although I was very close to bringing one of the latter). Then there's the bike issue. Eighty percent of PCVs here make good use of one. For around US$100 you can bring your bike from home on the airplane. For around US$200 you can purchase a bike here of sufficient quality (either used from a departing PCV or new from a store). If you do decide to own one here, bring maintenance equipment. Finally and most importantly, don't worry - anything extra you'll need can be shipped from home or bought by visitors. Anything small makes for great care-package contents (examples include spices, powdered juice mix, BBQ sauce, candy, a new t-shirt, film, magazines, soaps, stickers for local children).

Tonga has a lot to offer. There is abundance of white-sand beaches, coconuts, pineapples, and smiles. However you will no doubt encounter that occasional demoralizing obstacle. There may not be widespread poverty, health crises, or social upheaval in Tonga, but you will be confronted with challenges found mostly on the psychological front. Values of the Tongan culture significantly contrast that to which we are accustomed to in America. Fortunately, humans have amazing capacities of adaptability. If you are concerned about the emphasis on community based living, you'll make do. If you're concerned about defined roles of the sexes, you'll adjust. If you are concerned about conservative religious prominence, you'll get over it. Just know that your personal core-values do not need to be sacrificed in all this. You will always remain who you are. This is the beauty of mutual cross-cultural understanding (two-thirds of the reason the Peace Corps exists) - becoming aware of the intricacies of another group's lifestyle and learning their language (important). In the end, under the layers, we are all human with the same basic universal emotions. This is a discovery that you must make for yourself as you live inside another culture. It is one of the most profound revelations you will ever experience.

Four things to always keep in mind, which will retain your sanity through cultural acclimation:


Positive Attitude: the key to fully appreciating new experiences while enduring and hardships that may be encountered.

Patience: whether it be a trying situation or a lengthy span of uneventful time, it is could to have plenty of this.

Recognition of Challenges: brace yourself for adjustment difficulties and you will be able to cope with them better.

Self-Empowerment: know that by following an appropriate course you can make it how you want it to be.

The two years of your Tongan Peace Corps experience will incite extraordinary personal growth, open a world of new perspectives, and may well be the most amazing adventure of your life. That's a lot to grasp. So, at the moment, don't waste your time trying. Just come along with a go-with-it attitude and it will all work out. See you soon!

Paul W. Neville, Group 58

November 2000

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