I Took a Nap At The Wrong Time and Now I’m a VISTA Leader by Paxton McCausland

October 11, 2019

I had everything set up, the skype call, the blazer, the notes, yet nothing was happening. The Peace Corps interview was meant to have started ten minutes ago, but I was the only one in attendance. Knowing that something was off, I frantically searched through my emails to verify the time. Ah! I had accidentally set up the interview in Pacific time, instead of the Eastern Time I was currently living in. No big deal, I thought. I’ll just take a nap until the correct time of my actual interview, three hours from then. 

During college I developed an impressive and unfortunate habit: endurance napping. Endurance napping occurs when an individual is able to nap for extensive amounts of time before realizing that multiple hours have passed. As you might have imagined, I slept through my Peace Corps interview. For some reason, possibly unconsciously intentional, I had not set an alarm for my nap. I was not going to serve in Kyrgyzstan, a small Eurasian country between China and Russia. What a bummer. 

Ever since I was a child I had wanted to serve in the Peace Corps. As an American, I am very privileged. Every American is. Knowing that the United States had and has taken advantage of other countries with the outcome of making my life slightly more comfortable bothered and still currently bothers me. So, I wanted to do something about it. I wanted to take the time to live less comfortable and make someone else more comfortable. I wanted to do something to make at least one person understand that not every American enjoys destroying things. But, as it appeared after a very pleasant nap followed by an extremely uncomfortable wake up, I was not going to be serving in Kyrgyzstan. 

At this point in my life, I was trudging through the last semester of my undergraduate education, working to complete a bachelors in political science with a concentration in international relations and a Spanish minor at Mercyhurst University in Erie, Pennsylvania. Despite having been accepted into my top graduate school, American University, I had received little to no financial aid for any school I’d been accepted into. My best friend in college, Paige, graduated a year before me and stayed in our college town, serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA. One night, as we sat on a bench looking out over Lake Erie eating Indian take-out, I told Paige about my endurance napping mishap with the Peace Corps. Laughing at my mishap, she suggested I look into serving with AmeriCorps. Hmm, I thought. I guess the best way to address the problems that America made in other countries was first to improve America itself. Sure, I thought, I’ll apply to serve with AmeriCorps. It’s not like I had any other plans for the next year of my life! 

But what would I do? Where would I go? I had about two months left before graduation and I could feel the weight of time press on my back. I began Googling, trying to figure out the next step of my life, when I got a text from an old roommate. During the summer between my Junior and Senior years of college, I participated in a summer program in D.C. My roommate was Abby. A beer-drinking, Decemberist-loving, recent graduate, Abby was born and raised in Helena, Montana. We spent a summer bonding over being drenched in sweat in the summer D.C. swamp weather. After telling Abby that I was applying to AmeriCorps she suggested that I take a look at the available positions in Montana. Jokingly, she told me to stop on by and finally get to meet her childhood dog, Oliver. Sure, why the hell not? 

Looking into the open AmeriCorps positions in Montana, I found the perfect fit: The International Rescue Committee. The IRC focuses on integrating new immigrants into a strange and terrifying environment: Missoula, Montana. Having studied immigration extensively during undergrad, I wanted this position like no other. I applied and awaited with bated breath for a reply from the sponsoring organization, Montana Campus Compact. When the call did come, however, it was to inform me that the position had already been filled. Another big bummer. A different position, that the woman on the phone said would be a great match for me, however, was available. The position was for the Equal Pay for Equal Work Montana Task Force. 

The Equal Pay for Equal Work Montana Task Force was created by Governor Bullock in 2013 with the focus of improving the Montana economy by addressing pay inequality. I know this information because, as you might have guessed, I took the position. Oddly enough, the woman on the phone was correct. It was a perfect match. Discouraged from studying engineering due to the harassment toward women, my mother began studying nursing in college, a discipline which did not hold my mother’s true interests. After dropping out of college, my mother began working for IBM when she was 20. In 2013, due to the tanking economy, my mother, degree-less and independently supporting two children, was offered a severance package and asked to turn in her badge. For the first time in my life, I watched my extremely strong, bread-winning mother struggle. The year my sister started college and I started high school, however, my mother, at the age of 50, decided she was going to go back to school to complete her nursing degree. My freshman year of college I attended my mother’s college graduation during which she walked with Phi Theta Kappa chords. My mother’s story gave me insight into the struggles many women face in the workforce and encouraged me to take the position. Thus began my first term of service in 2018, serving with the EPEWMTF in Helena. Much to Abby’s, and her entire family’s, surprise, I did swing by and meet her dog. Oliver is a good boy. 

As I drove into eastern Montana July of 2018, as mile after mile of grass-less land stretched before me, I wondered what I had agreed to and worried about the year to come. I had never been farther west of Ohio but I felt like a change from the east was needed. If I couldn’t fly to Eurasia, then I supposed the midwest would do. After living in Montana for a month, I realized that I had made a fantastic decision. Montana is beautiful. Actually “beautiful” doesn’t properly describe this state. Neither does “gorgeous” or “Treasure State” or even “the last best place.” Upon first arriving in the state many Montanas would tell me “oh, you’ll stay here forever,” a sentence which freaked me out the first couple of times I heard it. But now, I completely understand why they said it. 

All of last year, I prepared to leave Montana. I deferred all of the graduate schools I’d been accepted to, studied for and took the LSAT, and even applied to and was accepted into a culinary school. Yet, here I am, serving a second term in Missoula as a VISTA Leader. Serving in AmeriCorps exceeded any expectations I could have ever anticipated all those months ago as I sat eating my vindaloo and paneer, looking out over a placid Lake Erie. My service has been far more than something to do instead of going to graduate school or a means by which I could obtain more financial aid for the next step in my education. I’m immensely proud of the work that I’ve done and the aid I could offer. This past year of service is not a decision I regret. It’s a decision I will honor and cherish for the rest of my life. 

This past year has been interesting to say the least. I’ve been the tenant of a man named “Dusty Wood” (yes, that’s his actual name), traded Captain Morgan for some Hutterite wine, almost died knee deep in snow in March on a mountain and witnessed men being pulled by horses on skis AS A SPORT. Shannon Stober once said “Montana will kill you” and geeze, I hope it doesn’t. There’s still so much more of it I want to see.