Year of Graduation: 2012
Why did you chose to become a Peace Corps volunteer?
I have been interested in living and working abroad since high school. As I studied at CSB/SJU and became more and more serious about an international career, I began to look for an experience that would test me and help me realize whether or not I was prepared for a future away from the United States. Peace Corps offered a good opportunity for me to do this by getting me to get out of my comfort zone and immersing me in a culture that is in many ways significantly different from my own. When I looked at my options during the fall of my senior year of college, I felt Peace Corps was a good fit.
What's the most rewarding and most challenging aspects of serving in the Peace Corps?
I would say for myself the most rewarding and challenging aspects of Peace Corps revolve around relationships. I have been rewarded throughout my first year of Peace Corps service through the relationships I have been able to build with the people of my community. Ranging from the students I teach, the teachers I work with, the family I live with, and others, I have been able meet and become close to so many. I have been able to learn from them and at the same time exchange ideas and talk about what makes us different and yet so similar.
At the same time this relationship building can be very challenging as well. While, we do share much in common, at the same time there are major cultural and, of course, linguistic differences between us. To be able to build these relationships takes a great deal of effort. You really do need to commit yourself to immersion in Cambodian culture and the Khmer language, which at times is not easy to do. Luckily, Peace Corps provided volunteers with what I feel was a strong training in the Khmer language and Cambodian culture in our first few months here, giving us the skills necessary to build strong, meaningful relationships with those we interact with.
How did you end up in Cambodia?
I ended up in Cambodia only by chance. When I first applied and was nominated to join the Peace Corps my recruiter told me that I would have to be comfortable waiting without knowing where I would eventually go. About a week or so before graduation I received an email telling me that I would being going to Southeast Asia and a few days later I received a packet in the mail from Peace Corps telling me that my country of service would be Cambodia.
What skills and knowledge did you acquire at CSB/SJU that led to your selection as a Peace Corps volunteer and that have been beneficial to your service in the Peace Corps?
CSB/SJU did provide me with a strong foundation for my Peace Corps service. I majored in both History and Political Science major with a focus in International Relations. The classes that I took at the two schools provided me with a greater and more diverse perspective on the world, challenging the way I had previously viewed and understood global issues.
In addition, while I was not able to study abroad for a full semester, I was able to be a part of the Center for Global Education's Bosnia and Herzegovina internship program. I served as an intern at a Bosnian development foundation in the summer between my junior and senior years of college. It was a great experience where I was able to test myself in terms of living and working abroad. It also made me much more confident that I would be able to successfully serve for two years in an organization like the Peace Corps.
What are you gaining from your Peace Corps experience that will be beneficial as you journey beyond the Peace Corps?
I am gaining quite a bit from my time as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I believe I have gained increased self-reliance during my time in Cambodia, while at the same time learning how to work in conditions far different from anything I have experienced previously. I have also learnt quite a bit about myself in terms of how much I like working and living in a country other than the United States. Additionally, I have made connections with many people ranging from fellow Peace Corps Volunteers, Peace Corps staff members, workers at NGOs and government agencies, and, of course, Cambodian counterparts that will be wonderful to maintain in the coming years.
Finally, and likely most importantly, I have learned invaluable lessons about understanding how people, from different backgrounds than myself, live and approach life.
What advice would you give to a current student thinking about serving a year or more after graduation? What advice would you give a current student specifically thinking about the Peace Corps?
The advice I would give is, of course, to get involved and to continue to be involved. Peace Corps, Teach for America, AmeriCorps, etc. are all looking for individuals who have shown some form of commitment to volunteerism and being involved. In addition, I would add that volunteering after graduation is a great opportunity for students to gain an increased and widened perspective that will be a benefit well into their lives. To live and work in Cambodia has allowed me to view problems, challenges, successes, and failures through a different lens. Sometimes seeing through this lens can be frustrating and at other times exhilarating, but it all leads to personal growth.
In terms of volunteering for Peace Corps, I would say in my specific case it was important to meet some of the placement requirements of Peace Corps. I was a Political Science and History major with no real experience in anything like health or agriculture, so it was important for me to become involved in English tutoring to qualify myself for English teaching positions. In addition, the two year commitment can be daunting. After serving for a year, I understand why it is this long. I feel like I have only just started after a year of important lessons.