Wisdom Wednesday: Ashley Lenihan

This week’s #WisdomWednesday comes from returned Peace Corps Volunteer Ashley Lenihan (Romania 2010-2013). 

Peace Corps Romania

“Recognize how your perspective will be influenced by your cultural heritage and do your best to leave your mind open to a new way of thinking. The most sustainable success will come from blending your ways with theirs, rather than trailblazing your own path.”

Blog Star: Pomp & Circumstance, Another Oath of Service, and now Charlie’s a PCV

Charles “Charlie” Warner is an English Education Peace Corps Volunteer in Kosovo. He left for Kosovo in early June and is part of the first group of Volunteers there. We’ll be following Charlie throughout his service from trainee to Volunteer to RPCV. He’s already shared his packing tipsfirst impressions of Kosovo, thoughts on training and funny classroom stories with us. For his fifth post, he writes about officially swearing in as a Peace Corps Volunteer. 

What happens when the new Director of Peace Corps, Carrie Hessler-Radelet, meets the President of Kosovo, Atifete Jahjaga? Far-reaching visions for the future of the Republic of Kosovo outlined almost a year ago coalesce and produce one of many first steps forward for this ‘newborn’ country: 25 newly-minted Peace Corps Volunteers scattering across the land into schools large and small, rural and urban, to work with almost every generation of Kosovar student. What also happens is a number of speeches, the pleasure of official protocol, national anthems, and the honor of being the first group of Volunteers sworn-in by Director Hessler-Radelet!

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From left: Peace Corps Country Director Kutzy, Peace Corps Director Hessler-Radelet, President of the Republic of Kosovo Jahjaga, Ambassador Jacobson, and Peace Corps Regional Director Lowry.

The swearing-in ceremony held by Peace Corps on June 20, 2014 accompanied the functional launch of a partnership between the United States and Kosovo that was first outlined in September 2013 (see my earlier blog post Peace Corps Launches Program in Kosovo). Marking the Peace Corps’ 140th country of service since 1961, the entry of 25 Volunteers into the Kosovar education system represents a significant step towards introducing dynamic techniques for teaching English into classrooms while working hand-in-hand with local teachers.  Peace Corps Kosovo is also the first entry into a new country by the agency in almost seven years, following the launch of a new post in Cambodia in 2007.

To the Volunteers, the swearing-in ceremony represented the conclusion of our three month long Pre-Service Training period and initiated our transition into the communities all across Kosovo that we will call home for the next two years.

Interesting side note:  this swearing-in ceremony also represented the second time in my life I have sworn an oath of service to the United States.  Almost 15 years ago, I swore my first oath of service after I joined the U.S. Air Force and started a career as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician; a commitment to service & a job that I will always remember with pride.

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Pictured above are the President of the Republic of Kosovo Atifete Jahjaga, Director Hessler-Radelet, Ambassador Jacobson, Peace Corps Kosovo Country Director Kutzy, Peace Corps Regional Director Lowry, and the 25 new Volunteers after our swearing-in ceremony in June 2014.

Joining President Jahjaga & Director Hessler-Radelet at the ceremony were a number of other VIPs including the U.S. Ambassador to Kosovo Tracey Ann Jacobson, Peace Corps Country Director for Kosovo Stephen Kutzy, representatives from the Kosovar government, USAID, and Peace Corps officials from around the Balkans and Washington, D.C. Rubbing elbows with this distinguished list of attendees were a number of guests equally responsible for the successful start of Peace Corps’ work in Kosovo: our host families, both from our previous three months of Pre-Service Training as well as the families we will be living with for our next two years of service.  Without these families opening their homes to strangers from America and summoning unfathomable patience from day one (when we could barely ask for a glass of water in Albanian), we would have had a hard start in our new home of Kosovo.

The swearing-in ceremony also marked the end of our time with the dedicated Peace Corps Language & Culture Facilitators (LCFs) who had been with us since we literally first stepped off the plane in Kosovo. I’m certain that we Volunteer’s had the deepest sense of relief at completing our training but I’m also certain that the LCFs weren’t far behind us in enjoying that relief!

After a brief moment of reflection while I wrote these words, it occurred to me that this blog post marks the true start and narrative of my time in Kosovo. Without doubt, as I setup life in my site, my mind is never far from the great memories made during the last three months of training. But I also have, for the first time, the sense that I am finally doing what I was brought to Kosovo to do…

To be continued…

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Presenting the first Peace Corps Volunteers in the Republic of Kosovo!

On Our Radar: September 26, 2014

September 26, 2014

ONE // Exchange students ‘40% go on to live and work abroad’

Recent studies show that students who study abroad are more likely to also live and work abroad. In fact, students who study or train abroad also increase their job prospects upon graduation.

Peace Corps is a great post-graduation plan for students who have studied abroad and want to live and work abroad again! Search open programs and apply by September 30!

TWO // Emma Watson’s #HeForShe Speech at the United Nations

Emma Watson has been taking over social media this week with her speech at the U.N. She is kicking off a new gender equality campaign across the world. What better stage than the U.N? #HeForShe ya’ll!

THREE // Community Profile: Hima Pant

Speaking of strong women, Peace Corps Volunteer Hannah’s profile of her Nepali counterpart, Hima, highlights Hima’s strength, perseverance and positive attitude in the face of gender inequality.

FOUR // 35 Food Markets from Around the World

Seven Peace Corps countries made Buzzfeed’s top 35 food markets! From open air in Morocco to the Makola Market in Ghana, the fresh food looks amazing. Can we eat it all? #nomnomnom

While our hometown is mentioned, we can’t help but dream of all the places we can go.

Food Market Morocco

Morocco – Grand Parc / Flickr: xavier33300

FIVE // Back in America and Feeling…Different

PCV Jill recently flew from Albania to the United States to participate in the Blog it Home conference! She wrote in excellent post about her reverse culture shock and the horror of paying over $3 for a coffee.

// Do you have any favorite Peace Corps blogs? Let us know in the comments!

Q&A with a Nicaragua TEFL Teacher Trainer RPCV

Kellie Bland, of Baltimore, Md., was a Peace Corps TEFL Teacher Training Volunteer in Nicaragua from August 2010 to November 2012. She graduated from Elon University in Elon, N.C. in 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in Communication. Bland is currently a Peace Corps Shriver Peaceworker Fellow at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County in Baltimore, Md. and will graduate with a master’s in Intercultural Communication in 2015.

Read about the impact that Peace Corps has had on her life and career below:

Q: How did you hear about Peace Corps and why did you decide to apply?
A:
 I heard about the Peace Corps from a woman that I met at a Spanish language meetup group in Washington, D.C. who had served in the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic years prior. I didn’t know much about Peace Corps at the time, but she was so excited and enthusiastic about it that I had to look into it and see for myself. I decided to apply because, at the time, I was looking for a change. I felt bored and unfulfilled at my job and I knew I wanted to travel, see the world and help people.

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Bland with her host mom in Nicaragua.

Q: What project are you most proud of from your service?
A:
 I am most proud of the summer camp that I created with another Volunteer for students in our communities. We had English, health and wellness, and HIV classes every day for a week. At the end of the camp, we had an “Amazing Race” in which the students had to use the knowledge that they had gained during the week to answer questions and win prizes. It was really great. We also received a Peace Corps grant for the camp from Volunteer Activities Support and Training (VAST).

Q: How did Peace Corps change or enlighten your personal perspective?
A:
Peace Corps allowed me to see things through multiple lenses. It taught me that everyone’s experiences are different even if they may seem to be the same. I learned that we should embrace and try to understand those differences instead of pushing them aside. Also, Peace Corps taught me patience.

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Bland (bottom row; left) with teachers from her school in Nicaragua.

Q: Did Peace Corps change your career goals?
A:
 Peace Corps definitely changed my career goals. Prior to Peace Corps, I was thinking about maybe working as an event planner or working in media for nonprofits. I have always been interested in nonprofit work and helping others, but Peace Corps helped me to narrow down what I like to do. I am now focusing on the Latino community and helping others prepare themselves for living abroad or coming to live in the United States. I realize now how important it is to be knowledgeable about the culture that you are about to live in.

Q: What is your current work?
A:
I am currently a Shriver Peaceworker Fellow at UMBC. As a part of my fellowship, I am currently working with the Hispanic Liaison at the Friends of Patterson Park in SE Baltimore to design and implement programs and activities for the large Latino community in the area. The Friends also do many free events in the park for the entire community such as outdoor concerts and movies, festivals, wellness fairs, tree planting and gardening.

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Bland having some fun with her host sister!

Q: How did your Peace Corps service prepare you for your work?
A:
Since I lived in Nicaragua for two years and I am now working with the Latino community in Baltimore, it has helped me understand their perspectives on living in the United States. If they tell me stories of how certain aspects of U.S. culture are difficult for them, I am able to understand it because I know the type of culture they are coming from. I know what things will work and what won’t work with this community. Also, the Peace Corps has helped me to be flexible and take each situation with fresh eyes to figure out the best way to approach it.

Q: What advice would you give to a potential Peace Corps applicant?
A:
 I would tell a potential Peace Corps applicant to keep an open mind and just let the experience happen. You can get advice from so many different people who have done it before you and you can look at the pictures, but everyone’s experience is different. Until you get there, you won’t really know what it’s like. There is no need to worry about it ahead of time. There will definitely be many ups and downs throughout your 27 months, but it’s a life changing experience that you will never forget.  

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Bland (third from left) with students from her English class in Nicaragua.

Wisdom Wednesday: Candice Allgaier

This week’s #WisdomWednesday comes from returned Peace Corps Volunteer Candice Allgaier (China 2007-2010). To learn more about our programs in China, visit Peace Corps China’s website and explore their job listings

Peace Corps China RPCV Wisdom Wednesday

“To those of you who are applying for China, I suggest going to the National Zoo and buying a variety of postcards featuring pandas. Give away the postcards as the spirit moves you. Chinese people enjoy the idea that pandas are popular in America. You will find yourself bonding with people over pandas. I am not kidding!”

About Peace Corps/China: There are currently 143 volunteers in China working in education. During their service in China, volunteers learn to speak Mandarin Chinese. More than 905 Peace Corps volunteers have served in China since the program was established in 1993.

Q&A with an Albania Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, George Washington University grad

Danielle Nesmith, of Gaithersburg, Md., was a Peace Corps English Teacher in Albania from March 2012 to May 2014. She graduated from George Washington University with a bachelor’s degree in International Affairs in 2011. Would she recommend Peace Corps to other GWU students? Definitely! Nesmith was one of the 41 GWU alumni currently serving in the Peace Corps. More than 1,139 Colonials have served in the Peace Corps since 1961. Will you be number 1,140?

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Q: What are some of your notable projects?
A: 
I work as a high school English teacher alongside a local Albanian English teacher with whom I do all of my primary and secondary projects. My main goal is to bring progressive teaching strategies into the classroom, but I do a lot of extra work on the side. I’ve organized and run a Model United Nations (UN) program for the whole country that included 13 schools and 200 students across Albania. We introduced the UN system, negotiation skills, conflict resolution, and diplomacy to students. I also work with a group of 15 girls on youth development and women’s empowerment programs. We celebrate American holidays together like Halloween and Thanksgiving, play ultimate Frisbee, watch American movies, attend team-building/leadership workshops, and host volunteer clean-ups of our city.

Q: How Did GWU prepare you for Peace Corps?
A:
 Every day in Albania I use the skills and knowledge I acquired while attending GWU. When I walk around new villages and meet new people, I remember the lessons about cultural relativism and comparative politics. When I was learning the Albanian language, I applied strategies from my years of studying Spanish. And, most importantly, my approach to globalization and interest in world affairs has truly helped me be a successful volunteer. I’m genuinely excited to learn this unique language and appreciate the beauty of traditional Albanian culture as a result of my thirst of learning that I fostered at GWU.

Q: Would you recommend Peace Corps to other GWU students?
A: 
I would definitely recommend this experience to anyone at GWU. There is no better way to apply your textbook skills and classroom knowledge than putting your feet on the ground in a foreign country. In my opinion, face-to-face interaction is the only way to truly grasp a foreign culture, foreign language, and foreign peoples. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, I live with people I’d never have met otherwise, learn a language I’d never heard of, and assimilate into a culture that is beyond unique and different from anywhere I’ll ever be again.

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About Peace Corps/Albania: There are currently 78 volunteers in Albania working in the areas of health, community economic development and English education. During their service in Albania, volunteers learn to speak Albanian. More than 560 Peace Corps volunteers have served in Albania since the program was established in 1992.

Alexandria Resident Completes Peace Corps Service in Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C., Sept. 22, 2014 - Isabel Alcalde, 25, of Alexandria, Va., has completed her service as an economic development Peace Corps volunteer in Costa Rica and returned home to the United States on July 25.

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Alcalde teaching students in Costa Rica.

For more than two years, Alcalde had been living and working in Costa Rica on community personal finance trainings and youth savings programs.

“When I was in elementary school, a returned Peace Corps volunteer came to speak to us and ever since that day I told myself I would serve. That is what led me to start volunteering in my community and it became something that I really enjoy and don’t ever plan to stop doing,” said Alcalde.

A graduate of Bishop Ireton High School and native of Alexandria, Va., Alcalde graduated from Marymount University in Arlington, Va., earning a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration in 2011. Prior to joining the Peace Corps, Alcalde volunteered with the Child and Family Network Center in Alexandria, Va.

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Alcalde presenting one of the Marymount uniforms.

The project Alcalde is most proud of is a women’s empowerment event incorporating soccer. Before leaving for Costa Rica, Gayle Wilson, a soccer coach at Marymount University, gave Alcalde soccer uniforms and suggested they be used for a project.

As a member of the Peace Corps Gender and Development Committee in Costa Rica, Alcalde organized a national competition among women’s soccer teams to complete service projects in their communities and win the new uniforms. After completing projects related to recycling, anti-bullying, nutrition and exercise, the 4 winning teams received the new uniforms along with empowerment training facilitated by Alcalde.

“Overall, I trained over 100 people and got the see the excitement on their faces as they tried on their new uniforms,” said Alcalde.

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One of the winning teams in their Marymount uniforms.

In the future, Alcalde plans to continue working in gender development. In 2015, she will be attending Monmouth University in West Long Branch, N.J. for a Master’s of Social Work degree focused on Community and International Development.

Alcalde said that she will most miss the sense of community that comes with living in a rural area and the quality time she spent with community members. She brought back a painting to the United States made by a woman in her community, which was paid for by all the people, groups and associations that she worked with during her service.

“I love it so much because she included a lot of characteristics from the community and every time I look at it, it’s such a great reminder of an unbelievable experience. I definitely brought Costa Rica back in my heart, but the painting makes its feel like I brought a little piece of it with me,” concluded Alcalde.

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The painting Alcalde received as a gift from her community.

Alcalde was one of the 267 Virginia residents currently serving in the Peace Corps. More than 7,241 Virginia residents have served in the Peace Corps since 1961.

About Peace Corps/Costa Rica: There are currently 120 volunteers in Costa Rica working in the areas of youth and community development and English education. During their service in Costa Rica, volunteers learn to speak Spanish. More than 3,500 Peace Corps volunteers have served in Costa Rica since the program was established in 1963.