Year of Graduation: 2016
Current Position/Location: Peace Corps English Education Volunteer (TEFL Certified) in Comoros
Please give a brief description of your current position.
As a Peace Corps English education volunteer my position has no limits. Being the first volunteer in my village I have been able to pioneer my own experience and determine what a Peace Corps Volunteer looks like. I currently teach every class from pre-school all the way up through 9th grade. I also teach adult English courses, a combined computer literacy with English learning course, lead a youth leadership club, organize English competitions like a spelling bee and storytelling, an explorers club, participate in an English radio show, as well as a secondary project. Being an Education volunteer really opens up any door that is seen fit for your community. English learning is always the number one goal, but how it can be most effective in one’s village is the challenge. Therefore, integration is key in order to know what exactly it is that the community and students are looking for from me, their volunteer.
What path did you follow to get to your current position?
Before becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer I volunteered for an AmeriCorps program known as City Year. Here I was able to work in a school system that struggled with challenges such as poverty, diversity issues, gangs, low funding, and high teacher turnover rates. During this program I never had felt so much love for a career through working with students who tested me daily and who I learned so much about life and the importance of diversity inside the classroom. While I was studying at CSB I also had the opportunity to study abroad in South Africa. With the South Africa study abroad program, students participate in eight service hours a week. I volunteered at Pendla Primary school where I fell in LOVE with education and realized how service can give students a voice, confidence, and ability to believe in themselves. Through these experiences and many other service-oriented clubs I was a part of from high school through college, I knew that Peace Corps was something that would challenge me, push me outside my comfort zone, and immerse me in a culture that wasn’t my own and I couldn’t be happier with where I am today.
What advice/suggestions would you have for students who might be interested in your career?
There is a saying that “Peace Corps is the toughest job you will ever love,” and there is so much truth behind that phrase. There are days where you feel you are making an impact and other days when you have no idea what you are doing and why you are serving. This isn’t meant to discourage anyone, it is the truth, just like everyday life. One day is extremely great and the next is one of the worst days of your life. I would suggest that you really speak with others who have done Peace Corps, but advise you to not fall under the danger of a single story. Hearing one person’s experience can give you the mindset that all of Peace Corps Volunteers experiences are just like his/hers. Not true. Each country, each village, each language dialect is so different and that is the beauty about volunteering. I would say that if you are ready to immerse yourself in a culture very different from your own, build your life in a new country while making forever family and friendships, and being comfortable with always being uncomfortable, then Peace Corps is something to investigate. Your passion and love will shine through your service, it is the grit and the resilience that will get you through it.
What skills are important in your field?
In my English teaching cohort, we have people who graduated with majors in communication, Arabic, religious studies, and psychology. Some volunteers came in with some education background while others had no experience in the classroom. The teaching aspect of this cohort is not always necessary, however, what is important is the willingness to serve and be on the job 24/7. You have to be dedicated to your community, patient, kind, and hard working. Most times volunteers struggle because there is not enough structure in their day to day life. This is a cultural difference, and I am speaking from my experience in my country; there is not a lot of structure here unless you make it. You have to be motivated and ambitious but at the same time, willing to sit for two hours just to talk with a grandma or grandpa in your village.
What is the most satisfying/rewarding part of your position?
The most satisfying part of my position, although it is hard to pick just one, would have to be the relationships I have made with my students, fellow teachers, and community members. Never have I been accepted into people’s homes, families, and events as I have while serving here. Because I am a teacher I have the opportunity to know many students and be a small part of their lives inside and outside the classroom. I have been invited to watch my students read the Quran, attend shiyoni (quaranic school), break the fast during Ramadan with families, and participate in wedding ceremonies. I have sisters, brothers, mothers, and fathers who are my second family and show me love, support, and help me overcome every obstacle. I am having the best experience here due to the best friends I have made here and the people of my community who welcomed me in as one of their own. Recently I was at a wedding event with all of the older ladies of the village and I knew I had found my second home when they introduced me as “Emily their child of Mitsamiouli (my village name).”
The most challenging part of being a part of Peace Corps in my experience is the gender roles in the Comorian culture. Here in Comoros the religious make-up is 99% Islamic and 1% Christianity. This makes it difficult for a white Christian female to join a village where everyone is Muslim. Here, the men are free to do what they want, walk around alone, play football on the beach, and converse with their friends when they want. The women’s expectations are to first get married and have children and once they are of age, they are to cook, clean, watch the children, wash everyone’s clothes by hand, collect firewood, make sure there is water in every bathroom, and any other miscellaneous tasks. This has been exceptionally difficult for me as a woman who wants to integrate through walking around the village but gets criticized for not cooking at certain times of the day, an athlete who wants to partake in sports where women aren’t always allowed, and of course, how I dress has changed as well. Here I wrap myself in a scarf every day and during Ramadan I cover my head completely out of respect. Even when it is the hot season I know my role as a woman is to cover myself. Gender roles in the Comorian culture are very difficult and challenging, however it has been one of the most rewarding opportunities for me as well. I have explained to many people why I walk around the community and why I play sports so that they can have a cross-culture experience. Like most things in Peace Corps, it takes a little while for the community to accept, but, they do and appreciate it too. I now see more young and older women starting to participate in our sport Sunday’s! So, I look at these obstacles as learning opportunities and couldn’t be more thankful for the differences.
What activities/experiences were helpful at CSB/SJU (and elsewhere) in preparation for this career?
CSB sparked my love for service through clubs and extra-curricular activities. I was involved in the Optimist Club where we did service activities within the community. I was a mentor for the first year Mentorship program for two years and worked with two first year students; they were our mentees and we set goals for the year, answered any questions they had about campus and living, homesickness, and we would do fun activities together each semester. The largest impact was when I studied abroad in South Africa, as I mentioned previously. Being able to serve in this community, forever changed my life and outlook on service and what it meant. I also was inspired through the course of EDUC11, and participated in service learning for the semester and got to work with a population of students that I had never worked with before - tutoring, educating, and playing together. It was a positive experience and reminded me why being a part of a liberal arts college was so important in that it stretched me educationally, physically, and mentally too.