Departure: August 3, 2011
A: The professional attributes that you plan to use and what aspirations you hope to fulfill, during your Peace Corps service
I’ve always been a leader, not in the way which first comes to mind, but the type of leader who takes the first step. I’m the first crazy penguin of the bunch to jump off the glacier into the unknown waters. The Peace Corps will be my biggest glacier jump to date. The internet has allowed for a small glimpse of what this jump will be like, but as I’ve learned, everyone’s experience, or jump is different. What if I don’t jump far enough? What if I bellyflop? It’s too easy to get caught up in the fears of what could be, and never allow myself to take pleasure in what amazing feats lay ahead. So here I sit, trying to figure out how one girl from Florida could ever compare to all the wonderful people who have gone before me into the Peace Corps. What do I bring? Well here goes…
I plan to bring my experience of working with 400 new college freshmen every year for the past 5 years. We have two eyes, two ears and one mouth for a reason. When implementing a program in a new environment with new people, we should watch and listen twice as often as we speak. I know how to evaluate a situation and determine what action is needed by taking three things into consideration; the perceived needs of the population I’m working with, the perceived needs of those leading the program, and the actual resources available to meet these needs. Through effective communication and my public speaking skills I am ready to be introduced to a new community and work towards a better tomorrow for everyone. Through my degrees in Health Education and Public Health I feel prepared to greet a population with a health need and work with that community to find answers together.
I aspire to learn and absorb during my first long term international experience. I also hope to catch a glimpse of what my future and the health field holds for me. I’ve grown up almost exclusively in Florida, in a town even other Floridians haven’t heard of. I want to see what else, and who else is out there. While I hope to teach something to the people I live with as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I’m unwaveringly sure they will teach me more.
B: Your strategies for working effectively with host country partners to meet expressed needs
Communication will be the key to working effectively. I’m a realist and understand I won’t be welcomed by everyone, but I will work hard to make that number as small as possible. I know discrimination is out there, and if I communicate effectively, perhaps I can help take a few bricks down from the built wall. I know the best plans come from within, I am ready to work towards the needs my community perceives. Actively involving neighbors, villagers, teachers, children, and whoever I end up working with in Uganda will reap the best chances of long term success. I know whatever I implement or work on needs to be self-sustaining after I leave, to do anything else would be negligible. I will be receptive, open, and loving to my host family, for I know they are key to starting things off on the right foot.
C: Your strategies for adapting to a new culture with respect to your own cultural background
My own cultural background has fluctuated through my upbringing, my mother’s family is from Cuba, my father’s family is right wing military, my step-mother’s family are deep south farmers, and my step-father hails from the lakes of Michigan. I’ve never really considered myself to be any particular culture; my holidays vary depending on whichever family side I’m with. I’m just me. I’m open to any other culture introduced into my melting pot. I’m excited to experience new food (even after I eat the same thing for days on end). Now, I have always been an outspoken person, but I also understand cultural competency will make or break a relationship. I may have to keep my opinions to myself for a few years about politics, or marriage, but while my mouth is closed, I’ll hear something I’d wouldn’t have was it open.
D: The skills and knowledge you hope to gain during pre-service training to best serve your future community and project
I don’t think I’m nearly as “outdoorsy” as other PCV. I enjoy the warm Florida sun, beaches, springs, and lakes (seeing a water theme here?). But I’m inexperienced when it comes to hiking, mountains, and other grizzly activities. I’m hoping to gain more of an adaptation to the adventurous lifestyle while in Uganda. For me the international health was the large pull of appeal, the learning to love biking is a side perk. I also look forward to the helpful survival tips we will learn in pre-service training; a few basic meals cooked on out little stoves, bucket laundry, procuring safe drinking water, and local games to kill the time. I also love everything about music, so the sooner I learn a few songs I can sing while I bucket bathe, the better.
Additionally learning about the history of health in Uganda would be nice to prepare for my placement. About what programs have been successful and more importantly, what went wrong with those programs that weren’t successful. A basic understanding of the Uganda health care system might help in understanding our communities’ situation. Preventative health is a major need when working with health disparities, so learning local slang terms will help when communicating preventative measures to the Ugandan people.
E: How you think Peace Corps service will influence your personal and professional aspirations after your service ends
Personally, I think the Peace Corps will give me insight into my place in the world. I know I love International Health and working on the governmental level appeals to me. So, the Peace Corps is my way of putting my big toe into the wide ocean of Governmental International Health. Whether it’s a CDC fellowship program, or bottom of the barrel at the World Health Organization, or even furthered work with the Peace Corps, I hope to continue working in international health after my time in Uganda. My personal subject preferences in college have always leaned towards sexual health; it is the topic I feel most passionate about. The HIV/AIDS epidemic was one reasons I was most excited when selected to serve in Africa.
Personally I know this experience will help me to appreciate things I don’t give a second thought during daily activities. I think my mental health with be tested being away from so many people I love, and I think my limits of comfort, personal space, patience, and physical strength will be stretched. I know joining the Peace Corps isn’t going to be this great happy adventure; this is a job, a hard working job. It will have its bad days, and its great days. But regardless, I know this is an experience I need in my life. To quote the Broadway musical Wicked “Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better? But because I knew you, I have been changed for good.”