Should you bring a laptop?


We’re wired in the states – laptops, cell phones, iPods, iPads, wifi…all that good stuff. And by god I do miss it.  But when you’re about to ship off to your Peace Corps country, no doubt the thought comes up ‘should I bring my laptop?’.  It makes sense to leave it behind.  Most likely, you’ll be the only one in you community with this technology.  And people have lived without it for this long, do you really NEED it?

Need it: No.

Is it helpful: Yes. 

In short – laptops help to get things done.  While there might be computers available in your community (public internet cafes or school computer labs), it’s just helpful to have your own.  For better or worse, a decent chunk of my Peace Corps work-work is done on a laptop.  Compiling spread sheets of water usage, writing letters and reports to the mayor, making hand-outs for health talks.  While I could certainly do all of that on computers I have access to through the schools or the health post, it’s just easier to do it on my own laptop.  That way, I don’t have to worry about bumping a nurse off the computer (or waiting for them to finish up whatever report THEY’RE doing).  I’ve also used my laptop to have slide show presentations, which is helpful since PowerPoint isn’t used as widely around here, so it’s still a novelty.

Then there’s the office work.  Here in Peru – new volunteers fill out monthly reports on their activities and ideas for future plans while the vets fill out tri-monthly reports on activities and outcomes.  All of this is done on Word + Excel and is through email. While you can do it on public computers, it’s much easier to be able to download it and work on it later. 

And for personal use: here in Peru, most of our hostels are equipped with wireless (at least in the common areas), so volunteers can be seen lounging around in regional capitals throughout the country Skyping with amigos and familia back in the states.  Plus, volunteers trade movies and music almost as much as herpes, so might as well join in, right (especially if you have an outbreak, you’ll probably wanna stay in and watch a movie anyways)?

I knew a guy who said he hid his laptop while in his community, and only used it with the door closed or in his capital city. I don’t hide the fact that I have a laptop.  I use it openly at the municipality and the health post.  I’ve used it in the schools to play music or show a small video.  It alienates people if I choose to stay huddled up in front of it and not talk to anyone, but mostly they’re respectfully curious.  The only time it gets awkward (for me anyway) is when someone asks how much it costs: because no matter what it’s still more then what they earn.  But it’s a common question, and there’s no social stigma to it.  Just like it’s viewed as rude to ask how much money someone makes in the States, it’s not so much here.  I had one laptop stolen: and that was in Lima, not in my site.  But I had insurance, so no problem. 

I had to work without a laptop for a month during that period. And while it was slightly refreshing to catch up on a ton of reading, it made getting a lot of simple tasks that much harder.  The computers in my site are full of viruses and crash like my 9th grade bolsa wood bridge (wait…hey….I’m in WATSAN) and I missed just being able to watch a movie in English.  It wasn’t intolerable to be without a laptop, but made tasks that much more tedious.

So while you'll be alone with your laptop in site, it’s a really helpful tool to have.  In fact, a few of the volunteers who shunned their laptops before coming to Peru wound up having them sent anyways.  Unless your Peace Corps invite booklet says don’t bring one, there’s really no hurt in it. The iPad, on the other hand….


Sethna said...

Really helpful and informative post. I'm a nominee waiting to clear the medical and background and placement stuff. I am most curious about your iPad comment at the very end. The size, portability, and functionality of the device make me wonder if it's a good candidate for replacing my laptop during service. Do you know anyone who has sucessfully done this?

Matt said...

Thanks for the comment! When I was writing this, I had no experience with the iPad or any tablet really. Currently, I live in Lima (Peru) and have an iPad for personal use (I have my own computer in the PC office and the NGO I work at). Since tablets are more for content consumption rather than creation, have limited physical memory and relies on either wifi or syncing with a computer I don't recommend a tablet for service. Maybe it's a new blog post?

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