Where do you work?
Bushwick Community High School - Brooklyn, NY
When did you serve in the Peace Corps?
Where did you serve (which country/countries)?
What were your main responsibilities as a volunteer?
Taught Biology and Chemistry at Jilore Secondary School
Is there a specific person (or persons) who made a strong impression on you during that time?
A local elder, Edward Kingi, lived near our school and maintained an amazingly diverse small farm on his land. He had worked for the UN for some years on various agricultural projects and retired back to his family farm in the village. His seasoned and wise perspective on local dynamics and larger scale development helped me immensely in framing and learning from my Peace Corps experience.
What was one of the most memorable moments you had as a volunteer?
I did weekly HIV/AIDS workshops with the students, which began as a pretty dicey and uncomfortable topic for discussion. We pushed ahead though and slowly but surely taught each other how to have honest and in-depth conversations despite the difficulties it presented to all of us. In my second year, students developed skits on issues of HIV prevention and stigma that they presented to the neighboring primary school. Watching the energetic determination they put into the project and the pride beaming from their faces on our way back from their performance still stands as one of the most touching and fulfilling memories of my teaching career. The other most memorable moment was when four massive forest elephants rumbled by 30m from my house just on the other side of the compound fence and left me pretty much peeing my pants in fear and excitement.
In what ways did your Peace Corps experience affect your life and/or career decisions?
Upon returning from the Peace Corps, I enrolled in a Peace Corps Fellows Graduate Program at Teachers College where RPCVs complete a master's degree in education while teaching at an NYC public school. Today I am still teaching at the same school and still thrilled to be living in such an international city as New York. I've also gotten involved with some HIV/AIDS advocacy groups here in the U.S. to maintain a connection to that crucial fight.
In what ways did your U-M education, both inside and outside the classroom, prepare you for your Peace Corps experience?
In my time at U of M, I feel like I learned about how to critically consider multiple perspectives on an issue, especially the ones that aren't immediately obvious. I also learned a lot about building shared goals with others and working productively with a group. And U of M was the first place I had to live on my own away from family and develop a sense of independence and self-sufficiency.
What advice would you give to others who are contemplating going into the Peace Corps?
Be ready to learn more than you teach and to find fulfillment in even the most mundane of daily tasks with neighbors rather than the grandeur of swooping in to save the world. Cultivate a deep, abiding patience to face the interminable waits for so many things, a cheerful perseverance to face the on-going frustrations of having to figure out how to do tasks even the local toddlers seem to do more easily than you, and the ability to gracefully laugh at yourself as you will be doing it all in what feels like a fishbowl with observers looking to be amused by you 24-7. Few experiences demand as much emotionally, but few experiences are nearly as rewarding.
What is the value gained from the Peace Corps experience?
Having to step away from all the accumulated experience, relationships, and stuff you have and into a totally new daily existence builds personal strength and teaches many life lessons that can't come any other way. Having the opportunity to learn another language and be immersed in another culture creates indelible connections to people and places and causes miles away, broadens one's perspective on complex issues facing our world, and illuminates telling aspects of one's own life that were previously made invisible by unchallenged routine and familiarity.
What lessons did you learn in the Peace Corps that you carry with you today?
Don't stay in a comfort zone for too long because real learning happens beyond those borders. How to fix most bicycle break-downs with minimal tools. Cultural traditions from the past usually point to very meaningful considerations we might be neglecting in the present. The art of negotiating prices on even the cheapest of trinkets. To ALWAYS question my assumptions.