Get to know Emily – UA’s newest Peace Corps Volunteer!
UA Peace Corps Recruiter Jody O’Dell sat down with Emily to discover more about this future Peace Corps Volunteer.
Emily, please tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m from Connecticut, and I came down to The University of Alabama with a scholarship. My major is within New College, and my senior project is called “Preserving Our Past and Feeding Our Future”. I’m learning traditional food and farming skills, and then trying to replicate these in making products.
Why did you decide to apply to Peace Corps?
I went to an informational meeting on campus. At that point, I hadn’t applied for any jobs. I ended up applying for the FoodCorps and the Peace Corps. I wanted to travel and do something in agriculture, and Peace Corps was the perfect opportunity to combine both.
Do you have much experience traveling?
Yes, I visited South Africa in December of 2015. I came home for two days, then left for Study Abroad in Italy. So, I was all over Europe last spring. I consider myself well-traveled, but I know there’s a lot still to see.
Do you think your travels will benefit you during your Peace Corps service?
Yes, because I’m used to things going awry when I travel. I’ve had some fun experiences with that, and I anticipate this happening in Cameroon.
Having that knowledge is priceless, and it will serve you well in your Peace Corps service!
There was a quote I read the day I got my invitation. It said “Nothing works out as planned, but everything works out”. I said, “Okay, that’s going to be my motto”.
Tell us about what you will be doing in Peace Corps.
I’m leaving Sept. 15th for Cameroon. My job sector is Agriculture, specifically a Crop Extension Volunteer. I looked on the website before I applied, and I saw what the job entails. Since getting the position, I haven’t been given any further information about it yet.
What are your expectations? What do you think your life in Peace Corps Cameroon will be like?
I think my life will be slower. I’m anticipating probably having electricity, but maybe not; I don’t know. I’ll definitely have no WiFi or internet most of the time. So I’ll be mostly focused on what is going on right around me, which will be nice.
Have you thought about what you will do during your downtime, knowing that the change of pace will be so different?
I am going to bring over my cross stitch supplies. I’m going to buy a new journal, a bigger one that I can draw in and scrapbook in. I’m sure I’ll be doing a lot of walking and listening to music.
Right now, in this moment, how are you feeling about your September departure to Cameroon?
I’m excited about it, but it’s still hard to believe that I’m going, because now I’m in the last month of college. My friends want me to stay in AL for the summer, so I’m just trying to figure out summer plans. Peace Corps seems way far off in the distance. I know it’s not, but it feels like it is. It feels surreal.
When you are in Cameroon, what do you think you will miss the most about America?
The ease of talking to people – language wise, and not having constant communication with my friends and family back home. I think I’ll miss my pets, but I’m sure I’ll find something cuddly there. Maybe ice – I don’t think there’s going to be ice.
Even if you do find ice, I wouldn’t trust it.
Do you have any words of advice for other UA students who are applying or will apply for Peace Corps?
I would say that the application seems overwhelming at first, especially because I had problems with the medical portion of it – uploading medical documents. But then you get it done, and it’s not that big of a deal. Be open to going somewhere that you’re not familiar with. I wasn’t familiar with Cameroon, but that’s where they decided to put me.
When applying, did you tell Peace Corps that you would go anywhere?
Yes, I told them I would go anywhere, but I wanted to work in Agriculture. I knew I couldn’t go to South America (because of the language requirement), so I pretty much said that if there’s anywhere else that you can put me, I’ll go. I think there was an opening somewhere in Asia, and I would have done it, but I was more interested in Africa, just because I had been there already and I loved it. I don’t know – I just find it strange that I was offered a position. It all happened fast. I applied on New Year’s Eve or a few days before, and I had an interview less than a month later. Then they offered Cameroon.
Thank you very much for your time, Emily. All of us at The Capstone International Center wish you the best!
My journey began as a sun kissed SoCal transplant, who traded his bro tank wearing and Venice Beach bumming days for an exorbitant amount of Frat T’s, sorority mixers, and some raucous SEC football. But more to the point, it was during my time as an undergrad at UA that I channeled my passion for social service to declare a Social Work major and take internships at Tuscaloosa’s One Place and the Tuscaloosa County Juvenile Court. Looking back, these two experiences lay the foundation for me to go on to serve as an AmeriCorps Volunteer with the “I Have a Dream Foundation” of Boulder, Colorado and later earn my Master of Public Administration from the University of Georgia following my graduation from UA in the winter of 2013.
Ultimately, there is no one particular reason why I chose to apply to the Peace Corps but rather a whole litany of contributing factors that resulted in me becoming a volunteer. However, two major figures in my life, my Uncle Steve and an AmeriCorps program director named Enrique, had both served as volunteers in Malaysia and the Dominican Republic respectively. I lusted for the wisdom these two men had uncannily developed for seemingly every one of life’s quandaries and pined for the natural grace they carried themselves with. When it came down putting pen to paper, (or really just completing an hour and a half long online application), the choice was clear to me: grow some chest on your hair and turn it in.
Peace Corps was fairly responsive to me, after applying and submitting all of my references in mid April of 2015, I received an early July email that I would be interviewing for a Business Development position in Paraguay in roughly a week or so. In scrambling to find out where on my World Atlas was a Paraguay, I quickly coped with the disappointment of coming to terms with that fact that this country was and still is totally land locked. But I moved on. I received my acceptance on the first of August, and having been given a week to think about whether or not I wanted to go through with becoming a volunteer, I accepted within a day. I then prepared to break the news to my family and my then girlfriend that their own Daniel Krimmel would be relocating to Paraguay shortly after he completed his MPA.
The next few months were a wild goose chase. In shaking down every poor dentist, optometrist, family physician, and fingerprint technician in Athens, Georgia to complete my pre departure medical and legal paperwork, I realized that maybe a better alternative would have been to utilize the one stop shop resources of the campus student health center. (hint hint hint) Regardless I got my forms completed but only after learning the hard way that it is perhaps not the best idea to take your blood test when you’re recently recovering from the Flu. (Spoiler: it dramatically throws off the results and leads to a very panicked phone call from the nurse lol)
In preparing to pack for my once of a lifetime journey, I aptly went to my local East LA swap meet and stocked up on 2 dollar Hawaiian shirts and cheap Ray Bans knock offs. (The verdict is still out on whether that was a good idea or not.) However, I totally whiffed in not having the wherewithal to pack more golf polos to serve as business casual shirts during Paraguay’s burning summer months. (Also, don’t be an idiot like me and forget to pack an external hard drive to store movies, episodes of “Its Always Sunny in Philadelphia” and uhhh other videos 😉 that might help get you through some internetless nights.) On a positive note, I did remember to bring my Ukulele which was a very good decision. (More about that later)
Finally, February 22nd 2016 had finally arrived. After updating my Facebook status and kissing my mom goodbye, I headed to LAX and flew to Miami, enroot to Panama and then Paraguay. The first three months of PST (that’s Peace Corps jargon for Pre Service Training) were a quite unique experience. While me and my fellow members of G49 (that’s Peace Corps jargon for Group 49) were living with Paraguayan host families and were learning tons about the culture, language, and our future work in the structured 8 to 5:30 environment of training, we were still socializing with each other and keeping one foot tethered to our American lifestyles. Looking back, building such strong relationships with this incredible group of folks was an incredibly important component to me feeling supported and connected later in my actual service.
On May 6, I completed my training and set out to start my two years of service in the bustling city of Itaugua, Paraguay. While there was a steep learning curve to improve my Spanish, get integrated, and simply become comfortable in accepting my new life, I took each day by day for the first three months and learned to embrace the experience.
Since then, projects have finally starting to get rolling. I work with a group of incarcerated youth at an alternative boys’ jail, lifting weights with them and leading self help work shops. In addition, I’m now living on my own in my local Asentamiento. I am working with a group of local senoras, as well as the vecinal commission to develop a trash collection system. I garner the funds through a Peace Corps grant to construct a play ground in our plaza.
Most importantly, I have developed some very strong friendships with the folks living within my community. For one, I’m now in a local band called Yvypora (“From the Earth” in Guaruni) where I have the privilege of performing as the lead Ukulele player. In addition, I can walk to just about any house in my community, clap my hands, and pass the next few hours sipping on Terrere and talking about whatever comes to mind. Paraguay in particular has an incredibly social and hospitable culture which has only helped me feel like I’m at home just six months into my service.
Ultimately, my experience is unique to me as anyone who joins will be challenged to explore depths of their being they have never ventured to before. But through this experience, I truly believe will emerge the most confident and competent version of yourself if you do indeed go through this experience. Thus, if you feel this experience is for you, then you just have to go out and do it… Remember, you have already won 16, going on 17, national championships. You are already a champion. Roll Tide!