Laura Whitmore’s Service in Poland
Years of Service: 1993-1995
It is difficult to drum down my Peace Corps experience into just memories or just one or two things to say about it. My Peace Corps experience defined me – particularly the me of the mid-1990s. As any human who grows, there are big and defining moments that add to your growth as a human being: becoming a parent, or losing a parent, or even losing or changing careers. They are different for everyone. As I look back at my life, the Peace Corps ranks as one of the best decisions of my life – personally and for my career.
The Peace Corps kicked off my career in service. I took the three goals of the Peace Corps to heart and continue to live goal 3 today. We are currently in a time where many American citizens believe that America needs to come first. After having lived and served in another country, and seeing how everyone just wants to live freely, I continually share my experience of living in a country that was only a few years away from a lockdown of communism. I share the struggles and the joys of my friends in Poland with my friends and family here in the USA.
My favorite memory happened at the end of my service and revolved around a sense of belonging. I served in a very small, coal-mining village in Poland. I was the first Peace Corps volunteer in my village. When I arrived, people were very curious about me and but also very stand-offish. I would walk down the street or go shopping and I could hear people talking about me as “that American.” Except for my students and really close Polish friends, I was more of an oddity to the rest of the village. However, near the end of my service, I was walking down the street and a young child and her grandpa were walking towards me. The young child didn’t know me and pointed, “Grandpa, who is that?” The Grandpa, who I honestly didn’t know either, said, “Don’t you know who she is? That’s OUR American.”
Ever since that encounter, and still to today, I consider Kleczew, Poland as my ‘other’ home.