Today I turned 33-years old. There’s not much to be said about 33, but I do feel like I’ve just moved from “early 30s” to “mid 30s”. There’s not much fun in 33. At 15 you can get your driver’s permit. At 16 you get your license. At 18 you’re an “adult” and 21 you can drink. The only one I have left to look forward to now is 35 – the age where Americans, born in America, are eligible to be president of the United States. Don’t laugh; I do have international experience now. I’m hoping to catch Hilary Clinton on her next trip to Thailand. Maybe she’ll put in a good word to the right people about the Peace Corps volunteer in Thailand who’s teaching English six hours a week. “You should see the great literature he’s reading,” she’ll tell Barack. “He just finished American Pastoral and he’ll be returning just before his 35th birthday.”
The reason I bring up my birthday is that my age became an interesting topic of conversation during training. Before leaving, I wondered if my age would be a factor with other volunteers. The average age of Peace Corps volunteers is 27. From the moment I walked into the Holiday Inn in downtown Philadelphia I felt much more comfortable. I saw “kids” right out of college as young as 21 to one volunteer on the verge of his 70th birthday. There was also a group of “seasoned” ladies from the age of 45 to … 46 (I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. Besides, you’re obviously young if you’re ready to take on the challenge of the Peace Corps).
I had the fear that I’d be the “older” guy who wasn’t straight out of college, kind of like that one guy by himself at the concert surrounded by teenagers. (Strangely enough, it will be 10 years this May that I graduated from UW-Stout.) This turned out to not be the case because not only do I have no trouble hanging with volunteers of all ages, but there are also a number of other people in the “’tweener” range. This is a moniker I’ve put on anyone from the age of 26 to 45. We are in no way right out of college and are in no way old – in-betweeners.
I never went out of my way to display my age. It usually came up when people would ask about why I joined the Peace Corps and I’d talk about my work experience in the last nine years and they’d ask, “Wait. How old are you?” When I told them I was 32, it was always followed with surprise. Two 22-year old volunteers (female, at that) predicted I was 24. The seasoned ladies all had me pegged for late 20s to early 30s, though. That’s why we call them seasoned.
Much like all my other fears of the Peace Corps, my age has turned out to be a benefit – of course, this is by choice. Thirty-three seems to be a rare age of a volunteer as most people my age in the states are settling down. (It’s also the reason I don’t expect many visitors in the next two years.) There are quite a few of us between 26 and 33 and then the next volunteer (I believe) is 41.
I have to give respect to the youngest volunteers for their courage. I don’t think I was ready for this when I graduated college. The idea of the Peace Corps (or, even, traveling internationally) didn’t come to me until I was about 26. Those six years of thinking about being a volunteer made it all the more sweet when I did land in Thailand.
The only time I feel older than the early-twenty somethings is when we’re discussing pop culture and they don’t know any Foo Fighters songs, or never watched Conan O’Brien, or have only heard of High Fidelity, or they don’t remember seeing Chris Farley and Adam Sandler on Saturday Night Live. It’s at these points in the conversation where my snobbishness kicks in and I don’t feel old, but just sorry that they missed all the good stuff.
“Think I’m goin’ down to the well tonight and I’m going to drink ‘til I get my fill / And I hope when I get old I don’t sit around thinkin’ about it / But I probably will / Just sittin’ back tryin’ to recapture a little of the glory of / Well time slips away and leaves you with nothin’, Mister, but boring stories of glory days / They’ll pass you by /Glory days / In the wink of a young girl’s eye / Glory days.” – the Boss.