By Gavin Elliott – Contributing Writer
UMF recently hosted a Peace Corps panel that featured current, prospective and past members of the organization discussing their goals to help people in need, their uncertain expectations and how the program helped them.
The event kicked off with a video from 2016 UMF graduate Elizabeth Ferry, who is currently stationed in Tanzania. The audience of 40-some-odd people watched as Ferry walked around her modest home.
“Why the Peace Corps? It wasn’t the plan,” Ferry pondered. “I went to the same panel you are at now, heard the people speak, was pretty inspired, and thought, why not pursue education and service at the same time and why not do it abroad?”
Reflecting on her 17 months of service with a big smile painted across her face, Ferry stated that “[joining] has been the best decision I’ve ever made…every day [the secondary school students] teach me more than I teach them.”
Afterwards, 2016 graduate Katy Schrader talked about her first year in Mozambique as a Peace Corps volunteer via video. She discussed her previous expectations of possibly living in a small village without running water and electricity and her surprise when she got placed in a “three bedroom house with an indoor bathroom, running water, and energy.”
Schrader also talked about her role as a teacher of future primary school teachers in Mozambique. “I spend lots of time watching my kids student teach,” said Schrader. “I know that my future students are changing education in Mozambique. It has been really amazing to watch the transformation of how they first started student teaching to how I have taught them.”
People then got to hear from two UMF seniors; Danny Marshall, who will be departing to Mongolia in May to co-teach English and Lindsay Gorman, who is hoping to travel to Ghana to teach special education.
Together, they discussed the long process of applying for the Peace Corps and suggested that anyone seriously interested should apply the summer before their senior year.
Members who had already served then began to speak of their expectations versus the reality. Linda Beck, a UMF professor in Political Science said, “when I went in, I envisioned all of the Senegalese I would get to know, and I made wonderful friends, but what I hadn’t anticipated was what incredible fellow Americans I would meet while in Senegal…one of which became my husband.”
Grinning, President Kathryn Foster remembered that she feared she would be served “goat eyeballs by a host family and expected to eat them” when deployed in Swaziland.
The crowd laughed at her recollection. Although Foster never was served goat eyeballs, she did learn a great deal about “how to be and live and be successful in a different culture.”
The previous Peace Corps’ members also discussed how much they did outside their designated area of work. Jo Josephson, one of the Peace Corps’ first members to travel to Ghana in 1963, was appointed to teach biology but ended up working on literary magazines, coaching soccer and driving the school lorry.
“I even worked in a bush hospital on the weekends helping deliver babies!” said Josephson.
Wrapping up the panel, President Foster discussed the support of the Peace Corps. “The first ten weeks when I went [to Swaziland] was just with other Peace Corps volunteers learning about the culture, food, ceremonies, and language,” she said. “So, you really feel like you have a network, even when you’re posted to a remote village.”
To learn about opportunities to challenge yourself and be a part of the Peace Corps contact Career Counselor Cyndi McShane at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.