Perhaps it was fate that led me to join, but I am always ambivalent about if fate exists. So, I’ll lay out the way it came to be and let you be the judge.
In mid-June, a friend of mine emailed to say that they needed volunteers to host young African leaders at non-profits as part of a State department program called the Mandela Washington Scholars and wondered if I was interested. I said yes immediately. July in Phoenix is very boring and I always like meeting people from different cultures.
I was partnered with Edem, a Nigerian who runs a mobile library and teaches civic engagement skills to youth. I could write 10,000 words or more on how inspiration and fantastic she is and probably will in the future, but for now let’s just say that her dedication to improving the world is contagious. One evening, she and I were in my office and I was asking how I could help her more than just teaching her grant writing and project management. She mentioned how she really needs more books because some kids had read all the books she has. Then and there I made it my mission to get more books for her.
The next day I was thinking about how much good I could do in the world and how unfilled I was finding my day to day. Sure, I was working on cool projects to engage youth and helping translate data for local government use, but other people can do that and probably do it better. I’m not trying to be modest; I really feel that there is something else I am meant to be doing. I am at my best and most fulfilled either teaching or implementing a new idea. The day to day maintenance of a project is not that fulfilling to me. I like to transition the project to others that can grow it and improve it. With all that introspection, I then thought how cool it would be to go to Nigeria and help Edem grow her non-profit and help others fulfill their missions. And then, the Peace Corps popped into my mind–isn’t that exactly what Peace Corps volunteers do? Share their skills and help others?
See, I had thought of joining the Peace Corps when I was 18/19 about to graduate with my Associates degree and still pre-med. I was considering changing from pre-med to public health, mostly because organic chemistry was hard and I still wanted to do something in the medical field. I don’t know how I stumbled across the Peace Corps as a route for a public health degree, but I did. I quickly knocked it off the list of possibility though because I was not at all qualified, having no bachelors degree and little experience in public health. Then, I made other decisions and changed my major to Political Science and Communication, forgetting about the Peace Corps.
Knowing I was much more qualified now, having worked at several non-profits, been student government president of the largest public university and having a PhD was probably overkill in terms of qualifications, I pulled up the website and started reading. In short, yes I was qualified for community and economic development or English as a second language. Then, I started thinking about where I would want to go? Fuji sounded nice! Yes, sandy beaches and island life sounded fantastic. That dream was short lived, however. The humidity, bugs, and island fever did not sound like something I could handle for two years. I called it a day and probably went to yoga, thinking the idea of joining the Peace Corps would pass as quickly as it came.
Over the next weeks, I became obsessed with the Peace Corps. Reading other people’s blogs about their experiences and Peace Corps sub-Reddit, fantasizing about how different my life could be. And as cheesy as it is, thinking about Belle in Beauty in the Beast standing on the side of the meadow singing, “I want adventure in the great wide somewhere. I want it more than I can tell.”
In the meantime, I was still trying to figure out how to get Edem more books for her library. The first idea was to send her home in, what was then two weeks, with a checked bag full of books. I figured it would be easy to get the books donated from the local library’s donation and then I would just need to raise a couple hundred to pay for the checked bag and its weight. The project was quickly getting more complex and becoming less feasible.
A week or so later I decided to reach out to the ASU Peace Corps recruiter to learn more about applying and if I would be a good fit. Breanne has turned out to be another amazing person that I’ve met on this journey. Through talking with Breanne, I found out the ASU Peace Corps club wanted to do a book drive in the Spring and so that became our better and final plan to getting Edem the books. And I got the benefit of spending more time with Breanne and other future Peace Corps Volunteers. The book project has been a bit of an ongoing saga of perseverance but we now have 1500 books and plenty of money for shipping. [More on this later].
Getting back to the title of this post and why I joined the Peace Corps, the short answer is I am “Leaning In.” I am taking Sheryl Sandberg’s advice, I doing what I would do if I wasn’t afraid. I believe that now, more than ever, we need the opportunities the Peace Corps provides for direct cultural exchange because sharing one’s self and culture with others promotes understanding and friendship that fuel the solutions we need to today’s problems.
I want to be part of the solution and that is why I want to be a Peace Corps Volunteer.
I also want to expand my worldview by living in a new culture. I want to share American culture and values with others to breakdown stereotypes. One of the biggest, most seemingly impossible things I want to do by the time I am 30 is travel to 5 different countries. I want to share my skills, talents, and passion with anyone who wants my help.
There have been so many things to consider and so many time that I thought maybe I shouldn’t do go, maybe this is a silly, idealistic path that will set me back financially and in my career. And what if I hate it and I can’t speak the language and on and on and on. However, my overwhelming consideration is that if I don’t go, I know I will regret it. I know that I want to led an extraordinary life of serving others and this is how I can.