A Lesson Learned: Reflexivity

The inspiration for this piece came from a response I was writing to one of the prompts of my final report for my University. At the end of it, I thought to myself, “this could be an interesting share for the Peace Corps Diversity Spotlight Series.” So I did some quick edits, extended it a bit and emailed it to the Diversity Task Force Representative in my region.

I asked him to read it critically. Why? I was self-conscious about my submission because one, it was vulnerable, and two, because its not all the time that people want to here from a white man in a diversity conversation. I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t falling into any traps that I was oblivious to. My representative Will assured me that each experience is diverse and that all perspectives are worthy of being shared in the series as long as they are respectful and advance a wholesome discussion. I was grateful to him for that. He also said that I wrote it like an academic article and that it’s slightly unapproachable. I blame grad school for that.

Nonetheless, it is a genuine reflection that I am happy I had with myself. It touches on some important personal topics as well as more general questions for other white men like me who are also attempting to check your privileges and biases. So here it is!


Diversity Spotlight Series Submission- A Reflection on Reflexivity

Teddy Dondanville

Youth Development Volunteer, Matacoto, Ancash

My being in a place has never been so apparent in my entire life. As a white, able bodied, cis-gender male, I spend a lot of time experiencing social spaces that cater to my biases and privileges. In these sorts of environments, that are built up by and for people like me, my reflexivity or awareness of me being in them is very weak. I am physically, socially, and emotionally comfortable. However, my Peace Corps experience has turned that comfortability on its head— transforming what was once a baseline of weak reflexivity to a state of existing where my being there is glaringly obvious.

In order to adapt to this change, I have had to seriously rework my conceptions about socio-physical spaces and how I fit within them. Despite leaps and bounds in integration, I am still very much an outsider. Due to that, my reflexivity in my environment—how I see myself in it and how I act— is on a whole new level. Every day I am questioning the actions I am doing, the words I am saying, and the body language I am portraying. Most everything is done so that I can fit in better, or so my being there is not as obvious. By reflexively questioning myself, I am able to not only become more observant of how I am presenting myself in socio-physical spaces, but also how other Peruvians are presenting themselves, and ultimately, how I can better imitate community members so to feel more comfortable and integrated into the scene.

This process is difficult and extremely exhausting— especially considering the privileged social and physical environments I came from and was accustomed to. Nonetheless, this reflexive process is incredibly enlightening and worth every uncomfortable interaction. It is worth it because it breaks down the biases and privileges that I use to blindly wield on a daily basis. Without these types of social tools, I am less equipped. This creates a steep learning curve and adjustment process that is entirely new for me. Normally, other less privileged people are adjusting to me and to the socio-physical spaces that I am comfortable in. As a PCV I experience the opposite.

As a sociologist, one that has worked hard and studied a lot to understand social phenomena such as race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and socioeconomic class, only to name a few, the reflexive process that my Peace Corps experience forces me to live on a daily basis is priceless. It completely takes the place of any book, article or discussion I have had or will have in the future about these social facts. It tosses theory to the side and smacks me in the face with so much realness that I cannot do anything but feel out of place and attempt to react. It shows me that simply being can be really difficult sometimes. It shows me that I took for granted my being in places while I lived in the U.S. It shows me a part of myself that is critically pensive, adaptive and resilient. This process, of reflexive self-discovery, is something I am proud of and will cherish— and never take for granted again.

Reflecting on my reflexivity has also solidified in me a deep admiration for other PCVs that have not experienced the type of privilege that has accompanied me throughout my life. In a lot of ways, people that look like me and act like me are better off in our world. This is a sad reality that I hoped to see readjusted. However, in my opinion, those PCVs come with experiences and are equipped with ways of thinking and being that benefit them to a degree that people like me will never understand. I am just barely beginning to get a taste for these sorts of experiences, social skills and realities as a 25-year-old, ghostly pale, too tall and cat-eyed PC. Better late than never I guess.

To a certain extent, we all stick out in our communities regardless of the privileged or un- privileged backgrounds we came from. Dark or light-skinned, female or male, heteronormative or not, we all come from a different country than Peru so therefore we are different. Knowing this, I want to express my appreciation for the PCVs that have come from one uncomfortable socio-physical space to another, all for the greater good of the community they are trying to serve. I also want to express my gratitude for the PCVs who have helped me in this reflexive process, whether you know it or not. Lastly, I want to express my pride for being open to myself and willing to experience this ongoing, introspective, exhaustingly difficult and beautiful self-development.

Thanks for Reading.

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