Soon to be Peace Corps Volunteer

Growing up I didn’t want anything in particular special for myself. My expectations were low as to what was going to happen in my life. I always saw signs and posters, using the motivational quote “follow your dreams”, well what if you didn’t know what your dreams were? Then what do you follow? I didn’t seem to have overlying dreams, so I passively followed what is expected of me. Now as a senior in college, and graduating in April I’m pretty sure I have carried out what was expected of a well off 21- year old. Now going into the “real world”, I carve my own path with making my own decisions. Its not like I haven’t made my own choices up to this point, but the ramification of those choices have always been massivley less of what I have decided for myself now.

So with that said, I would like to state that I am proudly joining to serve in the Peace Corps. Throughout college I have found my love for helping people (social work), traveling (studying abroad), independence (living on my own), and an intense hunger for my life ahead of me which has led me to this decision. Here are some classic (WHAT, WHERE, WHEN, HOW) details about my Peace Corps Service:

What: I am joining the Peace Corps, a US government run program that basically deploys educated and well trained Americans to volunteer in countries that ask for assistance all around the world. I will be serving as a community health worker. Mostly working with HIV/ AIDS prevention and education, but could be doing a range of other things to do with health & communities.

Where will I be serving: I will be serving in the country of Swaziland. This country is in Africa about 3/4 surround by the country of South Africa & the other 1/4 is covered by the country of Mozambique.

Swaziland location

Swaziland is about the size of New Jersey (very small landlocked country). If you look at the country of South Africa it’s one of the two little blobs that are “floating” within the larger country. Swaziland has a population of about 1 million people. Here are some other facts about Swaziland:

-It has the highest HIV prevalence in the world

-It’s the last absolute monarchy in Africa (yes this means they have a king)

-63% of people live in poverty

-1/3 of the population is under the age of 14, with the median age being 20 for the whole country

When: I will be leaving June 23rd, 2015 and arriving back August 27th 2017! Yup, that’s 2 years & 3 months. I will be 24 years old when I come back!

Who: I will be traveling alone & do not know anybody else who has been accepted… although there are other volunteers just like me preparing to leave in June to go to Swaziland to do their service! (There are about 72 Peace Corps volunteers currently serving in Swaziland in the departments of Youth Development and Health)

How: The Peace Corps has been around since 1961, sending volunteers to countries to create global understanding. The Peace Corps’ Mission is to promote world peace and friendship by helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women, to help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.

& last but not least WHY would I do this?!?!

My heart pounds uncontrollably & I cannot help tears of joy streaming from my face. I made it “here”. I, MYSELF made it here. I have brought myself to a place I’ve never been before, alone, and have learned so many new things. I have had this exuberent experience of traveling twice now. Once on 5/27/2013, the day before my 20th birthday in Sydney, Australia when I went on a day hike by myself on the cliffs over looking the beaches.

_DSC0509

Bondi to Coogee cliff hike in Sydney, Australia 2013;

Secondly this summer hiking alone on Angel island in the San Francisco Harbor.

_DSC0355

Angel Island, looking over San Francisco harbor 2014;

The feeling of traveling alone has been nothing like I have experienced before. I learn more about myself, meet more people, and have the best times of my life. As I graduate college I want to go towards things that make me the happiest & traveling has done that for me. I don’t particularly want to go to grad school or get a full time job when I graduate with my Bachelors of Social Work in May, so Peace Corps just seems like the next logical option for me.

More Details…

My service will start by a three month intensive training & living with a Swazi host family. This training is to help me become fully immersed in the country’s language and culture. I will hopefully be fluent in the language of SiSwati by the time I return. After acquiring the language and cultural skills necessary to assist effectively in Swaziland, I will then be placed in a community. I don’t know where that will be until the three month training is over. After being sworn into service after the completion of training I will be assigned to a community within Swaziland, where I will live and work for two years with the local people on health related issues.

I have told my family and close friends about getting accepted and here are some typical questions that are asked right away, so I will also answer “FAQ’s” for all who are reading this.

1. Will you be safe?

Peace Corps number one priority is to keep me safe abroad. For the first 3 months that I am in the country of Swaziland I will go through intensive cultural, safety, and language training before going to my village for the two years.

2. What language do they speak?

In Swaziland they speak siSwaiti. This language is only spoken in Swaziland and I will be fluent in it before I come home… although not sure if I will ever use it again other than for a party trick 🙂

3. What if you get there and really hate it?

I am able to terminate my service early, if absolutely necessary. (In no way am I considering this), but Swaziland actually has the highest rate for ET’s (early terminations) because of the emotional stress the country has on a person. 1 in 4 people in Swaziland are HIV +, this means most likely I am going to know somebody that will die from the disease. This is awful and sad to think about. The way I think about the emotional heartache that this is going to put on me is that it’s happening either way if I’m there or not. I want to know about how people live their lives around the world and death and disease is going to be apart of the learning process. I hope I have acquired skills through my Social Work degree in mindfulness that will help me though the emotional strain.

4. Will any other Peace Corps volunteer be with me?

I will be with other peace corps volunteers for the first 3 months in training (we all do training together). Then I will be sent to a community in which I will be the only Peace Corps volunteer in that specific community. Another volunteer could be anywhere between 1 hour away or 5 hours away.

5. Are you getting paid? 

I will receive a “transitioning back home” payment of about $7,500 when I complete my service. EVERYTHING from the time I leave (airfare) to when I arrive housing, food, and allowance to when I leave is paid for by Peace Corps. So I will basically be living for free for 2+ year in exchange for my service.

6. Whats the weather like? What do they wear?

The weather will be WARM! So this is my last cold Michigan winter for 2 years! YAY! I am required to wear a below the knee length skirt throughout my time of service… which I have not one skirt right now so I guess some long skirt shopping is in order!

7. Can we visit?!

Okay… this was my parents’ first question, but I thought I would put it out there anyway. I AM allowed to have people stay with me in my “hut” and I do have vacation time (I acquire 2 days per month). So if any of you find yourself wanting to come, I would love visitors!

8. Do you get to come home at all?

Peace Corps does not provide airfare home after you arrive. The only way they do is if a close member of your family dies. I can use my own funds and my own vacation time to come home. I get two vacation days per month of service, so about 24 days of vacation each year.

9. How can we keep in contact with you?/ Will there be internet or phones?

Peace Corps requires access to internet within an hour of my site, so I will have internet access but it will be limited. I will keep up this blog as my adventure starts. Peace Corps also provides you with a phone, yet not to make international calls. The best way to keep in contact is email, Skype, & this blog.

10. Did you choose this country?

In the peace corps application you are allowed to pick three places that interest you. I did not do this, but rather chose the option of “place me where my skills are needed”, so I really was open to where ever I was placed. With my skills from volunteering in the hospital & working in health promotions right now I am glad I placed within the health sector.

Feel free to ask me any other questions! I am so excited about this opportunity and I am not nervous at all (right now), because I know this is what I want for my life! Feel free to follow my adventures going through the next three years of my life!

18 thoughts on “Soon to be Peace Corps Volunteer

  1. Good luck with everything . It will be fun to follow your blog! I am sure you will get great satisfaction in helping others! You will be in my prayers for safety but also for adventure and following your heart!

    Like

  2. Ally, thanks for sharing this with me. I was so interested in knowing why you made this choice, I thought (briefly at best) about joining in 1968, when I was a junior in high school. It was a very turbulent time in US history and I thought I could make a difference. Now I know you will.

    Like

    • Hi Deb!
      I’m sure you could have made a difference! Many returned peace corps volunteers say when they return that they do not see a big difference they made, yet all the little relationships they made the biggest impact. I hope to do that! Thanks for the inspiration! I am sad though that I will miss Justin’s wedding! I’m so excited for him and Maud.

      Like

  3. This is SO fantastic Ally! What an amazing opportunity! I will be praying for you and wish you the very best in your time there. You will help many people in so many ways, but they too, will also help you in your growth too! Best Wishes!! I am interested in following your blog while you are there! Cheryl Smith.

    Like

  4. Way to go, Ally!!! I truly enjoyed reading where life is taking you…especially since 5th Grade :)! You will succeed in this adventure and I will continue to look forward to reading your updates!! This is really cool for me to see what you have become, I knew you would be successful!!!

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s