Katrina Deutsch, RPCV Nicaragua 2006-2009

Me and my counterpart Rosita with one of our classes at Instituto Nacional Azarias H. Pallais in Corinto, Nicaragua.

The children of my host family in Corinto, Nicaragua.

Name: Katrina Deutsch
U-M Affiliation: Alumni

Where do you work?

Student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education

When did you serve in the Peace Corps?

2006-2009

Where did you serve (which country/countries)?

Nicaragua

What were your main responsibilities as a volunteer?

Team-teach high school English with Nicaraguan English teachers, organize and lead training workshops for Nicaraguan English teaches, participate in materials development for English classes, teach community English classes.

Is there a specific person (or persons) who made a strong impression on you during that time?

Yes, my counterpart Rosita. She is a little lady (not even five feet tall) with a big heart. It was because of her help and guidance that I was able to complete and receive a USAID-funded SPA grant to rebuild three classrooms of the urban high school where I taught. She has had an incredibly difficult life, lives in a shack that is constantly flooding with sewage, and has estranged relationships with many of her children. However, she is the best teacher I ever saw during my three years in Nicaragua. All the students adore and respect her, and her classes are always dynamic. She was recently promoted to principal of the school. Even though the pay is not much higher and the hours are longer, so took on the position because she sincerely wants help all the students and teachers of that school.

What was one of the most memorable moments you had as a volunteer?

I lived on a small island right off of the Pacific coast of Nicaragua named Corinto. Every Sunday afternoon everyone goes to the beach and plays soccer. Up and down the beach you see boys (and sometimes girls) of all ages playing pick-up games of soccer, rolling around in the sand, and jumping in the water to cool off. I loved sitting on the beach and watching those boys play. I knew that so many of them did not have enough food to eat or families to take care of them, but I had never seen people enjoy playing soccer with deflated balls, barefoot on the beach like they did. When I think back to my time in Corinto, the first thing I think about is that beach.

In what ways did your Peace Corps experience affect your life and/or career decisions?

Peace Corps affected my life and career decisions in every way possible. Because of my time as a TEFL Teacher Trainer in Nicaragua I decided to apply to graduate school for international education policy and development, and am currently completing my master's at the Harvard Graduate School of Education in the International Education Policy program.

In what ways did your U-M education, both inside and outside the classroom, prepare you for your Peace Corps experience?

It was during a trip to South Africa and Swaziland with a student organization at U-M called Students of the World that I met my first Peace Corps volunteer. We were traveling throughout the countries making a documentary on the effects of HIV/AIDS on youth. In Swaziland we came across a group of Peace Corps volunteers and one of them invited us to stay with her for a few days. I fell in love with what she did and the relationships she had with her community. The following summer I again traveled with Students of the World to Cambodia, and decided that what would make me happiest after graduating from the University of Michigan was spending time overseas working and helping to develop a community. I applied for the Peace Corps in November of my senior year, and left for Nicaragua four months after graduation.

What advice would you give to others who are contemplating going into the Peace Corps?

The number one piece of advice I would give to others who are contemplating going into the Peace Corps is JUST APPLY. The application process can be lengthy and at times expensive. If you are currently a student, it is the best time to apply because most of the medical application is covered by UHS. My biggest fear in joining the Peace Corps was that I wouldn't "make it," that I would miss home too much or never feel comfortable where I was and would choose to leave early. I ended up extending my service an extra six months, and am now in graduate school so that I can continue to work and live abroad.

What is the value gained from the Peace Corps experience?

Besides the fact that it is a great resume builder, you truly become your own person during your time in the Peace Corps. All of the social stresses and worries of the day- to-day life in the U.S. disappear. I finally learned how to cook, and live completely on my own. I learned how to machete my yard and wash my clothes by hand. I learned how to bucket-bathe in cold water and feel clean and refreshed. How many people can say that?

What lessons did you learn in the Peace Corps that you carry with you today?

One of the main lessons that I learned during my time in the Peace Corps that I carry today is how unfair life is. I learned that so much of a person's future is determined before they are even born. People in Nicaragua, by default, will have less opportunity to an education and a higher likelihood of health issues due to malnutrition. During my time in the Peace Corps I continually thought that the only true difference between the people I worked with and myself was that I was lucky enough to be born to a family in the United States. All Nicaraguans have the same potential as people in the U.S., but without the resources that people in the United States take for granted, most Nicaraguans will have to drop out of school before completing high school to earn sometimes as little as $1 a day to help provide for their families.

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