Since 2018, Elon University has ranked among top producers of Peace Corps volunteers for medium-sized colleges and universities. This underscores Elon’s deep commitment to global engagement.

Among the faculty & staff working at Elon today, there are numerous returned Peace Corps volunteers, and every year Elon graduates head abroad to serve communities across Peace Corps sectors.

 

Follow the links below to read stories from Elon’s Peace Corps Volunteers.

Elon Alumni serving in the Peace Corps

Reena John '18: Youth in Development, Guatemala

I am currently working as a Youth in Development Coordinator in Guatemala. I live in a departmental capital in the highlands region of the country where my primary assignment is teaching life skill classes to rural middle school students. I also work with high school students orchestrating a range of experiences such as job exploration panels, certificate courses, and leadership classes. Throughout the year, I participated in a joint task force between the Department of Education and the Department of Health to better sexual education within my department. The most surprising thing in my community is that almost everyone is ethically K’iche’ and can speak the Maya language, which I am still trying to learn.

A cherished moment was at a Peace Corps training on leadership and self-esteem I worked with a young teen girl who was then tasked with bringing the session back to her school. I then got to see her facilitate her first class session, rock it, and receive general support from her classmates.

My fourteen months in Guatemala has flown by. I have become more patient and skyrocketed my ability to problem solve any ridiculous issue. Twenty seven months may seem daunting for people applying, but the second year really is where the symbiosis of the community relationships begin.

Robert Minton '18: Education, Ukraine

I am serving in Ukraine, and I am a TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) volunteer.  I am currently team teaching at a school in the western part of Ukraine, in a town called Mukachevo. Here, I teach 18 lessons a week with English teachers in the school. I’m here to help these children improve their english level, but the main part of my job is helping the teachers at my school become the best teachers they can possibly be. We exchange knowledge and skills about different teaching styles,  learning methods, classroom management, critical thinking, technology in the classroom and much more.

My hope is that after I leave, they will be able to take these skills and use them for the rest of their pedagogical careers, both helping themselves to become better teachers and helping the students to become better learners.

As for secondary projects, I also volunteer at an NGO in my town, NEEKA. NEEKA is funded by UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees). They provide housing for refugees from Africa as well as assist undocumented populations obtain the documentation they need in order to receive benefits from the state. I hold an english club at NEEKA, sometimes with the refugees, and I also help NEEKA by editing their grant proposals before they send them to Ukraine’s branch of UNHCR.

I was expecting cultural differences, and no doubt there are a lot of them, but I think the thing that surprised me most are the similarities between our cultures, especially with children. No matter where you are in the world, children are children are children. They like to play, they are goofy, optimistic, silly, curious and creative just like children in the states and I would expect worldwide. My students remind me so much of the students I’ve worked with at home, and just how similar they are has been the most surprising part for me.

The day before my first group of students graduated, I wrote my students a letter telling them how much they had meant to me and how proud of them I was. The next morning, right before the ceremony, I gave the letters to one of the students. It was almost right before graduation, so I didn’t have any time to explain anything to them: I just gave the letter to Yulia and went to where I was needed. The ceremony came and went, with students performing, giving speeches and of course crying. I should also mention that the graduation was at our town’s castle, which is about one thousand years old. After graduation ended and all the students had left, I stayed a little late to help break down the stage and get everything packed up. I ended up lingering a bit by the drawbridge, and I’m glad I did: The students hadn’t actually left, instead they were somewhere random in the castle doing one thing or another. I was really thankful for one last moment with them, and even more thankful that Katya, who had somehow swiped the letter from Yulia, said, “Oh hey, Mr. Robert wrote us a letter.” Katya gave it to the best english student, Danilo, and right there on the castle steps he translated the letter to the entire class. They all hugged me and it’s a moment I don’t think I’ll ever forget.

My biggest takeaway is that such a huge part of development revolves around changing extremely ingrained attitudes, which is in my opinion one of the hardest things to achieve. Structural problems, whether in the national government or in schools, are tied so much towards culture and belief systems, which are extremely hard to change. I’ve taken away that this is a massive reason why it is so hard at times to make any progress with reforms on an international plane. Being on the ground level, I’ve received valuable insight of some of the obstacles of international development, and have over time been able to work my way through figuring out the balance between trying to improve fundamental systems and accepting a culture where it is.

Be flexible. Just lean into that flexibility. My experience has been radically different from what I expected, and just going with it has benefitted me a lot more than if I stayed rigid in my beliefs and expectations. I really think you need to conform to the experience and to your surroundings, and not the other way around. Of course don’t lose yourself and who you are, but life will be a lot easier AND more fulfilling if you remain flexible as possible.

Tate Replogle '18: Education, Albania

I am currently an education volunteer (TEFL) in Albania. I work in a nëntë-vyeçare (translated to a ninth grade school), which is similar to an American middle school. My primary assignment is to teach English to eighth and ninth graders. Some of my secondary projects are organizing summer camps, leading an English club, leading a Model UN team at the local high school, and tutoring some young students. In the future, I hope to teach English to the teachers at my school and collect books for the school library.

What surprised me so far is how hospitable and truly nice people are here. They can tell when I am confused or lost and then help me. Also, the Peace Corps staff here are truly amazing. They always make sure that you are safe and doing well. My most memorable moment, probably like so many other volunteers, is swearing in as a volunteer after almost three months of training. I was very happy and sad at the same time. I was happy and excited to start my service at my permanent site, but I was sad to leave the close friends that I made during training. My biggest takeaway from my service is how much I am gaining from this experience. I am learning and changing so much. Sometimes I feel like I am taking more than I am giving.

Some advice I would give to someone interested in the Peace Corps would be to talk to other volunteers and/or a recruiter. That being said, you should take everything that you read and hear with a grain of salt. Every volunteer has a unique experience with their service. Talk to many people and read as many blogs as you can, but keep your expectations as low as possible.

Peace Corps service is a roller coaster of emotions and events to say the least. Peace Corps staff say that “This will be the hardest job you’ll ever love,” and I truly believe it.

 

Danielle Richer '15: Health, Cameroon

I was a Health Volunteer in Cameroon- NW providence (English speaking). After completing an extensive application process, I entered into Peace Corps training on September 6th, 2016. When I was at Elon I knew I wanted to do something health related and abroad, and through the help of some wonderful Elon staff, I choose to apply to Peace Corps. The application process is long, and takes about a year from starting the process to actually leaving the country for training. It also involves getting a medical and security clearance, so it’s much more through than a usual job application. Although now you can be much more specific, if you’d like to. I put down health anywhere. For me, I didn’t know the difference between Cameroon and Cambodia in terms of living. But some people want different things, such as language, or proximity to other Peace Corps countries. So it’s up to you, you can be broad or very specific in your application.

Every country is different, but we started everything by having a short few day training in Washington DC, then flying out together to Yaounde, Cameroon (the capital city). Once in the capital we got more shots and a crash course in what we needed to know before going to live with our host families. In Cameroon you do about 12 weeks of Pre Service Training, in country, and live with a host family in your training village. You then swear in and start your 2 years of service in your own village, in your own house. For me, I lived with just a mom and brother (a small family compared to a lot of the other host families) for pre service training in Babadjou, West, Cameroon. They almost always train Cameroon volunteers in the francophone region so that you are forced to immerse and learn French. I went into my service having just learned some basic French through Duolingo, so language was one of the hardest parts about training. But training is not only about language training, but cross cultural communication, public health and technical skills as well.  I think one of the biggest reasons I got into Peace Corps was due to my event planning background. I had a minor in Public Health at Elon, but I definitely didn’t know a lot about the health topics in Cameroon. And that was fine. I think a lot of what they’re looking for in potential volunteers is that you’re willing to learn, and up for the challenge, they can teach you the symptoms of malaria.

After training we took the oath of office, and went off to our assigned villages. I was assigned to a small village of about 3,500 people in the Northwest providence of Cameroon called Mbuluf. It was also at the top of a mountain, so high in elevation and pretty chilly. I thought going to “Africa” I was going to be sweating, but I ended up having my family send me fuzzy socks. During my first 3 months in village, I not only adapted to living with no electricity or running water, but also got started integrating into my new village. Integration is one of the most crucial aspects of your entire service. It’s a real make it or break it point. Because no one is going to come to your trainings, or want to listen to you, or even be friends with you if you aren’t integrated into your community. I was very fortunate to have a very well loved counterpart, who gladly inducted me into the church choir. To not only integrate, but to learn more about my village, I did a community needs assessment. It is not your job as a Peace Corps Volunteer to bring your agenda to your new village and force them to do anything. It’s not right, and it’s also not going to work. You are very temporary in the grand scheme of things, so if you want something to be truly sustainable after your two years, you need buy in from your village. We also all joke that your end goal is to work yourself out of a job. You should be training everyone to do things, so that when you’re gone you’re not missed (in terms of your work). So during the first 3 months, I went around and spoke with people about their needs, and what they thought the village needed. I made a survey and did large and small group discussions with as many people as I could. I was assigned a very small community health center, much like a college health center size. Limited in what they could provide, I also found out that there were a lot of misinformation about malaria and HIV/AIDS. And that’s where I decided to focus my efforts. Peace Corps offers a lot of different trainings, one of the biggest in Sub Saharan Africa is Grassroots Soccer training. You learn how to incorporate soccer with malaria and HIV prevention topics, so the kids and teens are learning but also having fun. This is also a great way to empower young girls, as soccer can be a male dominated sport in Cameroon. During the peak of malaria season, I implemented the Grassroots Soccer Malaria curriculum for about 40 children. This was a particularly great success, as I was able to incorporate both the Christian majority and Muslim minority girls and boys, and none of these children were in school at the time.

When we arrived in the Anglophone region, the strike of teachers and lawyers had just started. This conflict only got worse as time went on, with the NW and SW regions wanting to secede from French Cameroon and form a new country of Ambazonia. Among a lot of the hardship of living in a conflict zone, this instability and teacher strike meant that no children in the NW and SW regions were going to school for the entire time I was in Cameroon, and are still are not going to school.

This conflict is also what cut my time short in Cameroon. After having done the Grassroots Soccer training, my counterparts (your Cameroonian equivalents that help you do all your projects) and I started planning for a large HIV campaign, that would have been 12 weeks of GRS training with both boys and girls, culminating in a huge HIV testing event and health fair. We’d all but sent in our PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) grant for HIV/AIDS funding for this project when we found out we were being evacuated. Unfortunately this happens all too often in Peace Corps countries, due to civil unrest and disease. A fellow Peace Corps volunteer that was being evacuated with me, was also evacuated from Guinea during the Ebola epidemic. We were all taken to Yaounde to see what would happen, but I knew that was the end. I had joined Peace Corps in order to gain more public health experience, and really gain field experience, and I did that. So while I was definitely sad to be leaving what I’d been calling home for 13 months, I had accomplished the goals that I had set for my Peace Corps service.

One thing that I didn’t know going into Peace Corps that is a wonderful perk is the non-competitive hiring status for government jobs. Once we were granted interrupted service, we were eligible to be placed on the Peace Corps NCE (non-competitive eligibility) roster for federal jobs. It can be difficult to break into the federal hiring game, but with the special hiring authority it makes a huge difference. I was very lucky to be chosen to interview for a job that I didn’t even apply for, simply because I was a returned Peace Corps volunteer and the organization liked my resume. And now that’s the job I’ve been in for over a year and a half!

How quickly you become used to having a lot less stuff. Before Peace Corps I’d never not had access to a phone, refrigerator, or hot shower. And while I definitely love all of those things, it doesn’t take too long to adjust out of being so dependent on them. Your whole village has never known any different, so carrying water miles on the back of a donkey seems tedious to you, it’s a usual Monday for them. And you quickly adjust to being one of the villagers and living a much more simple life. Also how quickly your fellow Peace Corps volunteers become practically family and lifelong friends, even when you’re back in the US. You expect

One most memorable moment?! There’s so many. But the best memories revolve around food. Food definitely made us feel closer to home, and there were certain things we all missed a lot- like pizza. My closest volunteer was about 30 mins away, and decided he wanted pizza so bad that he build a pizza oven in his backyard. To christen the pizza oven, we had a huge pizza party up at his farm. Volunteers from all around the region came, each with a different topping. We got up early and made literal vats of dough and sauce, and had placed a very special order with the only place we knew of within 10 hours that made actual mozzarella cheese. We cooked and ate pizzas until all of the cheese and dough was gone, and until we were all so bloated we all laid down in the grass to recuperate. It was definitely great pizza, but also such a wonderful bonding experience.

How incredibly fortunate we are in the United States on a lot of different ways, but also that that doesn’t always make it better. While we all have smart phones and internet and TV all the time in the US, that also causes us to be constantly inundated with anxiety producing information. While we missed keeping up with our families on Facebook, we certainly didn’t mind not having to be bombarded by political ads for the 2016 elections. We’re incredibly fortunate to have running water, hot and cold, almost on demand. But there’s still places in the US that don’t have clean drinking water. We’ve definitely come a long way in many ways in the US, and for that I am very grateful, but we still have room for improvement. Unlike what a lot of the Cameroonians we met thought, the US is not this perfect utopia, we have our own problems too.

Really do some soul searching and be sure this is what you want to do for the next 27 months, and that you are prepared to not only live with less stuff, but also be away from your friends, family, and pretty much everything you’ve ever known. While I know Cameroon is one of the more remote countries, I think that element is pretty true of most Returned Peace Corps Volunteers’ experiences. It’s going to be the absolute hardest thing you’ve ever done, but there’s an entire village of people that have been waiting for you to arrive. And that’s what definitely made it worth it for me. It’s physically, emotionally, and mentally challenging, but ultimately you have to know that the potential rewards outweigh those hardships, for you personally. And if they don’t, then Peace Corps isn’t for you. And that’s ok! It’s definitely not something that everyone can do and enjoy. There’s a lot of ways to give back, live abroad, and serve your country. Also if you like the idea of being a D list celebrity, that’s sort of what it’s like to be a Peace Corps volunteer.

Elon Faculty & Staff who have served in the Peace Corps

Woody Pelton, Dean of Global Education

I served in Morocco (1978-80), and Malaysia, UNHCR (1980-81). My wife and I were High School English teachers in the town of Khouribga, Morocco.  In Malaysia we were teacher-trainers in a refugee camp for Vietnamese refugees. I was surprised by how quickly we got used to the things that we thought might be challenges, and how alert you are when living in a different place.

One memorable moment from my service was attending an overnight celebration of a circumcision with a local family.

My biggest takeaway from the experience is that people are curious about the USA and as long as you are curious about and respectful of their home country, the local community will embrace you. I would advise anyone interested in the Peace Corps to do it and arrive with an open mind and flexibility.

 

Sarah Parker, Nurse Practitioner at Elon Student Health Center

I served in the Peace Corps from 2007-2009 in The Gambia, West Africa as a healthcare volunteer. I worked in a hospital training nurses and at a school of nursing teaching classes. I helped build a blood bank at the hospital I volunteered at, and also taught first aid classes in my village and worked with community nurses to deliver healthcare to remote villages.

What surprised me the most was how welcoming another culture was to welcome me into their home. I lived with a family, ate my meals with a family and really became part of my host family. My biggest takeaway was my cross cultural experience. The time spent there allowed me to not only witness how other countries do life–  it gave me time to adapt and be part of that life. My advice to anyone that wants to do PC is to do it! If you have questions please reach out to me; I love to talk about my experience.

Katherine Reynolds, Interim Director of the Humanitarian Immigration Law Clinic

I was an English as a Foreign Language teacher for grades 5-11 in Kazakhstan. My primary assignment of teaching involved developing a curriculum and teach tools for English instruction using the communicative approach. This was to help students practice their speaking, instead of focusing solely on reading and writing. I did team-teaching alongside a local teacher. I also added a service-learning aspect to the curriculum. As we were learning about topics, I encouraged students to do something for their community around that topic. One example is that my students collected litter, as the village was home to a national park that they wanted to keep beautiful and sustainable while also hosting many tourists.  For a secondary project, I participated in and organized summer camps. The highlight was hosting a liberal arts summer camp at my site. Students learned from local teachers and Peace Corps Volunteers about yoga, dance, photography, drawing, guitar-playing, and songwriting. At the end of the camp, they performed a showcase of their work. Working in partnership with local teachers and using feedback from students about what they wanted to learn was crucial to my success. My teenage students especially liked when we studied American pop music so they could understand the lyrics to Rihanna, Fergie, and Justin Timberlake.

People in Kazakhstan were shocked to learn that we were working for no monetary compensation. For volunteers, the chance to be immersed in another culture is a great opportunity to see that people are more alike than different, to help when it’s asked for, and to make friends and memories. Many host country nationals told me I should be married and having babies at my age (23) instead of living on the opposite side of the world as my family. However, I was living with a host family that had a huge extended family that gathered nearly weekly, so I did not feel like I was missing out on anything in the United States during those 27 months in Kazakhstan.

The national dish of Kazakhstan is beshbarmak, which means “five fingers,” and you eat it with your hands. It’s a platter of noodles with boiling meat and broth served on top. Many different cuts of meat are served in this dish. One dinner, I reached in and intentionally grabbed a piece of fat. My host grandmother, who was very suspicious that I was a spy, was delighted and said, “You’re Kazakh now!” That was really heartwarming that she finally made me feel welcome in their culture and their home. I also had the pleasure of learning both Russian and Kazakh. Anytime I spoke Kazakh, people were so grateful because nearly half the population still only spoke Russian at that time. They definitely saw it as a sign of respect that I was learning and speaking the native Kazakh language while living as a guest in their country.

My biggest takeaway from this experience has been learning not to judge someone before you meet them. Give everyone a chance to show you who they are. As a person, I learned so much from people who had patience with me to communicate slowly in their native language. Eating and preparing food, enjoying music, and dancing are universal languages. As a teacher, I learned that every student has something to offer, you just have to try many different methods of teaching. No one is unteachable and every child deserves a chance to learn and express themselves.

The Peace Corps is a roller coaster of an experience, so have good wellness strategies before you go. Know what your own boundaries are and be flexible. Be open to trying everything once, but maintain your truth as a person. I was in the Peace Corps before the internet was widely accessible so I spoke with my family infrequently. I’m grateful that I served before everyone became addicted to smartphones, as it helped me live in the moment. I also didn’t see my family at all for 27 months, as I didn’t travel outside of Central Asia while I served. While this was harder at some times than others, it helped me develop really strong bonds with my host family. I still talk to them more than 10 years later!

Jennifer Eidum, Assistant Professor of English, Director of Elon's Peace Corps Prep Program

I served as a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) volunteer in Ukraine. My primary assignment was to teach middle school and high school English at a humanities honors school in a medium-sized town in southern Ukraine. At the school, I also led an English club where we celebrated American holidays and learned English through pop culture. My secondary project was teaching conversational English at a local university. More than just teaching English, my goal was to learn the language (Russian) and build lasting relationships with Ukrainians in my community. During my service, I was most surprised by how much I liked teaching middle school students! I also really enjoyed university teaching, which foreshadowed my career now teaching at Elon.

I was in Ukraine for the Orange Revolution, a moment where the young democratic government was tested. In short, they held an election, but there was clear corruption and tampering with ballots. People took to the streets to protest Victor Yanukovich’s election, and the Ukraine’s high court threw out the election, held a new one, and the popular candidate, Victor Yushchenko, became president. Rule of law was upheld, for the time being. It was fascinating to hear the conversations among Ukrainians and to witness the protests.

Of course, this ‘Orange Revolution’ just set the stage for the Euromaidan protests forcing the now-President Yanyukovich (same guy who was illegally elected in 2004) to flee the country in 2015 as his excessive corruption and authoritarianism was exposed.

I think I learned two really important things about myself: I can do difficult things, and taking risks and being open to opportunities makes life more exciting!

I would advise someone interested in the Peace Corps to join the Peace Corps Prep Program! I say that not only as the director of the program, but as someone who had little experience before teaching English in Ukraine. When I applied for Peace Corps, they told me to get experience so I quickly got trained to tutor at a local community center and spent the Spring of my senior year tutoring a really sweet Laotian refugee woman. I wouldn’t say I was good at it though. Peace Corps does a good job training its volunteers to do their jobs, but having an academic background in the area (the Peace Corps Prep program asks you to have 3 courses and 50 hours of field experience in your sector) would make the Peace Corps training more impactful.