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Archive for the ‘Global GOLD’ Category

Katie Collins (BS10) shares her experience in the Peace Corps as an English teacher in Ukraine. Check out Katie’s second blog below and watch out for more Global GOLD posts.

Greetings once again!

Given any thought to joining the Peace Corps since my last post? If so, there are two big obstacles you’ll face before becoming an official volunteer. First, you’ll tackle the application. If you’re even kind of considering joining, I highly recommend you start the application process as soon as possible. For many people, it will take about a year from starting an application to actually leaving, so if you’re considering it, apply! It’s free and you can withdraw at any time with no penalty, so why not have it as an option?

There are a few key steps in the application process and, as bureaucracies go, they each come with a ton of paperwork. First, you’ll need to fill the thing out. You’ll need three letters of recommendation from various people: one from a close friend, one from an employer and one who can comment on your volunteer work. And speaking of volunteer work, start volunteering! You don’t often have a whole lot of control over where Peace Corps assigns you, but say, you really want to work on HIV/AIDS education or you really want to be a teacher, then start volunteering in that field now. You’ll more than likely be placed in a position similar to previous experience.

Ok, so now you’ve finished your application. Step one down, and about seven more to go. Your next step will be an actual interview, either in person or over the phone, depending on how close you are to the nearest recruiting office. The interview questions are pretty standard. I recommend you do a few Google searches for tips and questions you can expect.  After the interview your recruiter will decide if he or she wants to nominate you. A nomination is a huge step. As long as you can get through the waiting after this, you’re more or less in. When you’re nominated they’ll give you a tentative placement. You’ll know the region you’re going to and what you’ll be doing, but be warned, this can change.

From there it’s a big paperwork and waiting game. You’ll have an extensive medical review and get lots of shots so they know they’re sending you over healthy. Once you pass your medical clearance you’ll get an official invitation. Your invitation will tell you exactly where you’re going, what you’ll be doing and when you’re leaving. I received my invitation about 10 months after applying, so again, be prepared to wait.

Now you’ve received your invitation and you’re ready to pack up your life for the next two years. What next? Before you officially become a Peace Corps Volunteer you’re a Peace Corps Trainee. You’ll fly to your new country and begin what I assure you will be the most intense three months of your life. As a trainee, you’ll spend virtually all day every day between language classes, cross cultural training, technical training. You’ll probably do some kind of hands on internship and, if you’re lucky, you’ll live with a host family who will cheer you on as you embarrass and humble yourself on a daily basis with your budding language skills. It may sound rough, and believe me, at times it is, but the experience of training is something you’ll never get anywhere else. I totally recommend it.

Three months of training will fly by and finally, after a year or more of waiting, you will officially be sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Congratulations. You have just been given the opportunity to foster sustainable change and development in an entire community. It’s not always easy, it’s certainly not always fun, but the good days outweigh the bad ones and make everything worthwhile.

-Katie Collins

The contents of this blog are mine personally and do not reflect any position or opinions of the United States Government or the Peace Corps.

For more on Katie, read her blog.

What are Global GOLD stories? Raw, adventurous, and timely. They are related to the ways our alumni (and students connected to the Alumni Association) make an impact related to global social, cultural, political and environmental causes and concerns. The views presented are representative of the author only and not the Office for Alumni Relations.

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Katie Collins (BS10) shares her experience in the Peace Corps as an English teacher in Ukraine. Check out Katie’s first blog below and watch out for more Global GOLD posts.

Greetings EMU alumni!

Looking for a complete 180 in your life? Do you like volunteering? Have you ever wanted to learn a new language? Are you ready to move to a new country for over two years? Do you like being challenged? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may want to consider applying to the Peace Corps!

I took a very atypical route after graduation. I didn’t seek employment, didn’t think about making money and didn’t apply to grad school. Instead, I put all my eggs in one basket and applied to the Peace Corps. Turns out my gamble paid off. I’ve been serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ukraine for over a year now. I work full-time as an English teacher at a K-12 school, I speak Russian (albeit poorly) and in my free time I play soccer with my students and farm potatoes with my Ukrainian friends.

I first heard about Peace Corps from my older sister. In high school I remember her telling everyone she was going to join one day and it sounded like a good idea to me! Two years of living in a different country – where could I sign up? Once I hit college my Peace Corps ambitions became more focused. After about a million times of changing my major (accounting, to biology, to international trade, to…) I finally found the perfect, and then brand new, International Affairs Program. What better way to utilize this degree than by gaining practical volunteer experience abroad? Excellent career move much?

I have to admit, my initial desires to serve were a bit superficial and focused exclusively on how much I could benefit from the experience. Two years of loan deferment and time to figure out my next move, the guarantee of learning a new language, the fact that it would look great on grad school applications. The list goes on. I had a complete paradigm shift, however, during the summer after my junior year, when I had the distinct pleasure of participating in EMU’s summer study abroad program in El Salvador. There, alongside some of EMU’s finest faculty members, we studied poverty, health and human rights up close and personal. After the program, I ventured on a bus to Guatemala and spent the rest of the summer studying Spanish and building stoves in rural villages. As soon as I got back to the States, I started my Peace Corps application. And this time, I wasn’t thinking about the money they would pay me after completion, and I wasn’t thinking about the non-competitive status I’d get with the government when I finished. Nope, now I just wanted to join and have the opportunity to help foster sustainable development in a foreign country. I wanted to see to what extent I could be an agent of change in a developing country and what I could learn from living as an isolated American in a foreign culture.

Peace Corps is more than just a job. Volunteers serve in countries all over the world under varying degrees of hardship and do a million and one different jobs in their communities. We are on duty 24/7, we make the bare minimum to get by and half the time the expectations placed on us are totally unclear. That being said, I absolutely love what I’m doing here. It’s as much challenging and frustrating as it is rewarding and fulfilling and if I could go back I’d do it all again.

Stay tuned to hear more specifics about the application process, what three months of Peace Corps training really looks like and what I’m doing here in Ukraine as a volunteer. If you’re curious and want more information where volunteers serve and how to apply, check out the website here: https://www.peacecorps.gov/

I’ll leave you with a more realistic set of questions to see if you’re ready for the Peace Corps: Do you like eating weird foods? Do you like having lots of friends and socializing with people in English? If yes, could you give that up for two years? Do you want to feel like a celebrity yet have the conversational skills of a six year old? Do you like adventure? Think about it…

See you next week!

-Katie Collins

The contents of this blog are mine personally and do not reflect any position or opinions of the United States Government or the Peace Corps.

For more on Katie, read her blog.

What are Global GOLD stories? Raw, adventurous, and timely. They are related to the ways our alumni (and students connected to the Alumni Association) make an impact related to global social, cultural, political and environmental causes and concerns. The views presented are representative of the author only and not the Office for Alumni Relations.

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This is the seventh and final  entry from Africa to the Global GOLD series written by Jon Maravelias (BS10). Jon is a Development Associate for a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) called NaDeet based in Namibia, Africa.

The story below is a graphic account of Jon’s experience. The viewpoints expressed are those of the author alone and not the Office for Alumni Relations.

In my last year at Eastern Michigan University, I was writing my honors thesis in Anthropology, preparing for the Undergraduate Symposium, finishing four full semesters (including Springand Summer) to graduate on time, preparing for another presentation for the EMU Alumni to several of our donors and most importantly, wondering what I was possibly going to do after the crest of this wave breaks. It seems as though you are looking through drunk goggles in those final few weeks and let me give you a piece of advice to anyone who is stumbling through it now — you think you want to relax…but you won’t. Your body and mind may be exhausted, but they are stimulated and it’s not like once the stimulation is removed your body and mind will go back to a peaceful state. In my opinion, it is vital for you to find the most fulfilling outlet for that post-graduate angst and an overseas internship is your golden ticket.

In my Honors Thesis for Anthropology, titled Study Abroad Dynamics, I explored the acquisition of cultural reflexivity in Americans during a study abroad tour of the Mediterranean. It has been recognized and debated by many anthropologists, sociologists and journalists about the nature of American culture – What is it? How do we define it? Does it even exist? Indeed, the fact that our culture is hyper-individualized makes it difficult for the American to accept any sort of group mentality, but more importantly, we are a giant vat of ethnic porridge (sounds like something I eat in Namibia for breakfast these days). The fact that we are so mixed makes it difficult to conceive of any unifying cultural norms or traditions. That is, until we travel outside of the country for a period of time. It is not until we have a completely unfamiliar culture to use as a juxtaposition to our own that we begin to see what exactly makes us American — and this, I argue, is completely tied to quality of life and personal fulfillment.

In this Great Age of self-help books and pharmaceutical induced worker bee syndrome, are we not, in the end, looking for something to end the alienation? Could you honestly tell me what you, as a “Self,” are even capable of doing not only for fellow (wo)man, but for yourself? Up until now, you have performed a personal job (maybe not a good one) to create a persona acceptable to those in your culture. This persona becomes reinforced in your culture over time and the line between who you think you are and who you really might be becomes blurred — and this seems to me to be the second-to-last layer of problematic existential questions before we jump into the mucky cesspool of nihilism. And a possible solution? Culture shock. You must be put in a new cultural context that requires you to reexamine what you’ve learned to take for granted in order to shed the layers of ego you have acquired through reinforcement by those in your culture. Although uncomfortable and sometimes maddening, you will come out of the experience with a special awareness of what you are and how your culture has influenced your perception and actions.So I think it is important for the post-undergrad to explore their options for an overseas internship. When I began my search, I started with Peace Corps of course, but quickly turned my energy elsewhere due to the big dad-like oversight of the organization, as well as the length of stay for the volunteer. As I’ve met more Peace Corps volunteers and explored their sites throughout southern Africa, I speculate that Peace Corps is like the modern-day missionary movement into developing countries. Instead of religion, they bring you English. Instead of tobacco, they bring you condoms. Instead of God, they bring you Western capitalist dogmas…okay, okay let’s relax a bit. All of the Peace Corps volunteers I’ve met in southern Africa so far are amazing people who want to do good things — You just need to know that there are other options. On a more rational note, if you plan on continuing your studies, just remember that Peace Corps is a two-and-a-half year commitment.

Thankfully, I found my internship at an environmental education NGO in Namibia through my professor at EMU, Dr. Cynthia Gabriel (Anthropology Department). She just so happened to have a sister-in-law running this EE center in the middle of the Namib Desert and was looking for volunteers. I can honestly say that it was one of the top three best decisions I’ve made in my life so far, not only because I’ve expanded my work experience to unimaginable heights in a developing African country, but because my quality of life has become so great. As I’ve learned to adapt to the several different tribal cultures in this neocolonial nation, I have also developed a sense of confidence particular to being a social creature. After all, learning to bridge vast cultural gaps in an unknown land in order to survive makes meeting that prestigious interviewer seem like tasty chocolate puddin’ staining an old shirt — not a big deal.

What are Global GOLD stories? Raw, adventurous, and timely. They are related to the ways our alumni (and students connected to the Alumni Association) make an impact related to global social, cultural, political and environmental causes and concerns. The views presented are representative of the author only and not the Office for Alumni Relations.

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This is the sixth entry to the Global GOLD series written by Jon Maravelias (BS10). Jon is a Development Associate for a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) called NaDeet based in Namibia, Africa.

The story below is a graphic account of Jon’s experience. The viewpoints expressed are those of the author alone and not the Office for Alumni Relations.

At the Namib Desert Environmental Education Trust (NaDEET) Centre, we offer a five-day training course in alternative solar cooking technology and sustainable living practices for adult community groups of southern Namibia. Between 2009-2010, five of these groups from the communities of Maltahohe, Keetmanshoop, Bethanien, Maltahohe and Rehoboth participated in this program. Participants were typically female heads of the household and unemployed. NaDEET’s aim is to systematically empower all Namibians to live sustainably by teaching them how to use alternative cooking technology, i.e. parabolic solar cooker, solar oven, fuel-efficient stove (FES) and recycled firebricks, and other water and energy saving techniques.

In April, I conducted a five-day evaluation of these community groups by traveling to all five communities and visiting participants at their homes. All of our participants live in the slums (a.k.a. “locations” or “townships”). The roads are barren; the houses are made of rusted tin; and the bathroom is located in the field maybe a mile from one’s house. Many of the slums do not have electricity or running water, so most residents fetch water from a nearby stream or underground spring and use an open fire to cook their food. As such, cutting down trees and collecting firewood is a daily activity contributing to deforestation in Namibia. Any outsider must understand that southern Namibia is mostly a desert — any living tree has struggled for many years to become part of one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. That is why using alternative cooking technology is necessary for the sustainable development of southern Namibia, and it is also why NaDEET’s goal is to plant 365 trees this year throughout Namibia.

In general, it seemed that the poorer you were, the more you relied on solar cooking since it meant you did not need to collect firewood for the day. I visited several women who used the solar cooker and fuel-efficient stoves to heat their bath water and to cook all of their meals. Prior to the program, we were concerned about possible theft of the solar cookers, but we quickly learned that it’s a little difficult to wheel a giant space dish down a road littered with boulders and pot holes. Another problem we anticipated was transport and space for the solar cooker. However, what we found was that most participants kept their solar cooker somewhere more convenient such as a family member’s house or a clinic in the location. For example, in Rehoboth, we visited the clinic Orange Babies who provides baby formula for HIV-positive mothers hoping to keep their babies HIV-free. The clinic was using the solar cooker to hold demonstrations and bake sales to raise money for the clinic.

The most successful communities were the ones with a traditional power structure. Both the communities of Maltahohe and Bethanien were under the leadership of two elder women. Anna, from Bethanien, was the chief’s wife who organized all NaDEET participants and provided oversight of the equipment. As we sat on her sandy porch in the south, we watched her family use the solar cookers and fuel-efficient stoves to cook lunch for nearly 12 other community members. Likewise, in Maltahohe, Veronika is a stroke survivor who uses her solar cooker for her bakery. When one travels through the slum, they can’t help but be drawn to the entrepreneurial business for lunch. She explained to me that she bought a plot of land close to the school so that she can have her own sustainable living center for the community, remarking, “If we change our ways, we have the power to break the circle of poverty.”

My favorite part of the trip, though was planting the trees. Nothing could explain the look of contentment and appreciation on Namibians’ faces as we planted an indigenous shade tree in their barren plot of land. Since we had about 80 trees donated to us from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, I had the freedom to just drive down the street and yell at someone – “Hey you! You want a tree? Great! Get in the car and show me where you live.” The people were ecstatic and typically invited me inside to see their home. It is my hope to return to Namibia in the next ten years and see much less desolate slums marked by trees of good will and better living standards.

Check out photos from Jon’s trip on his Flickr stream.

What are Global GOLD stories? Raw, adventurous, and timely. They are related to the ways our alumni (and students connected to the Alumni Association) make an impact related to global social, cultural, political and environmental causes and concerns. The views presented are representative of the author only and not the Office for Alumni Relations.

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This is the fifth entry to the Global GOLD series written by Jon Maravelias (BS10). Jon is the Office Manager for a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) called NaDeet based in Namibia, Africa.

The story below is a graphic account of Jon’s experience. The viewpoints expressed are those of the author alone and not the Office for Alumni Relations.

I’m standing under a large camel thorn tree next to the highway for a bit of shade from the blazing Namibian sun, somewhere between the eastern village of Gobabis and the border post to Botswana. I need to be out of Namibia today if I still want to have an internship and better yet, not end up in jail. I had a bus scheduled this morning to pick me up in Windhoek and take me to Gaborone, but it never showed. Instead, a taxi pulled up and I paid an extremely inflated price to get to where I am now–under a tree in the middle of the bush…awesome. Just the way I wanted to start my daftly unorganized trip through southern Africa, which was further exacerbated by a half-witted American girl in Botswana. You see, this trip started out with a solid skeletal base–I would stay for as long as I needed with a Peace Corps volunteer in Gaborone to avoid the potential murders and thievings to occur if I walk around Africa with no plan, no transportation and nowhere to stay. It turns out that’s exactly what I’m going to have to do now, so…shoot. I really should have seen it coming. The girl was way too excited and manic to be trusted anyway.

I stretch out my arm and mimic what I’ve seen so much of in this country…long, up-and-down waving for long distance hitching. Soon enough, a small VW Golf pulls over and four Owambos (a northern Namibian tribe, typically urban-based) look at me quite seriously. The youngest one gets out and throws my bags in the trunk without greeting me. I lean into the passenger’s window and attempt to negotiate a price to get to the border —

“N$100 whitey!”

“Listen bru (Afrikaans slang for “brother”) , we both know that’s ridiculous. After that taxi ride I’m broke, man. How about N$50?” I reply.

Silence. The young man pulls down his dark sunglasses so I can see the whites of his eyes. “Are you trying to cheat me, white man? You forget who has your things now and I guarantee (he slams his palm on the steering wheel for emphasis) I find more money in them bags than you offer me.”

I stand straight and look down the road — nothing but wasteland. The sun is beginning to burn. “Fine, N$100,” and I open up the back door to sit down.

I grip the laundry hook and rest my head against the window. There’s nothing I can write to explain the terror I feel at this moment, but it is of upmost importance to act like I do this all the time. Things are different in this part of the world — to feel afraid is necessary to stay alive, but to show that fear is a threat to your survival. People in Africa can smell your exotic brand and one must realize — very quickly — that some may consider you guilty for the actions of “your race” until someone claims responsibility for your weird ways. So, until then…pretend.

As the wild African music blasts in the stuffy car, I wave goodbye to the country I came to know so well. To ease the tension, I offer everyone a piece of gum and bring up the Harry Simon fight last night. The driver lowers the music and looks through his mirror at me — “You like Harry Simon?”

“Absolutely, I find it amazing that he can still fight after being in prison for five years with two broken arms,” I reply. This was a lie, though. I actually find it quite sad that Namibians still embrace this guy as their own. Imagine George Forman in his prime, soon to be promoted by Don King and heading to Africa to fight Muhammad Ali. A stoic oak who could throw one hell of a punch to your unsuspecting face — that was Namibia’s Harry Simon. That is, until he killed a family of tourists near Walvis Bay 5 years ago in a drunk driving incident. Both arms broken, he sat in prison for those five years and immediately returned to boxing. Last night was his first fight since going to prison, and as the driver informs me…”Woooo that guy threw one hell of a ::tongue click:: to knock the other guy out in the first round!” The fact is, it didn’t matter how I felt about this guy. What matters is that I act like a mirror, to adapt, and to seem less exotic to these guys who could dismember me at any moment along the vast desert road where few travelled.

As we approach the border post, the driver pulls up behind a tree and says we have to walk the rest of the way. He doesn’t want to risk being caught for trafficking hitchhikers into Botswana, so I pay him and begin walking with the other three guys. A strange euphoria rushes through my veins and causes me to laugh — how simple it was to go to-and-fro! How exciting it was to squander the cultural stigma of hitchhiking — an activity that apparently only attracts the infamous serial killer looking to sodomize and cut the innocent traveller to pieces. As we approach the border post, I wear a twisted grin and move with a swagger as the other three guys move away from me, undoubtedly freaked.

It was about noon now and I had completed my first objective — Get the hell out of Namibia. Check. Now, let’s find a ride to Gaborone (still an 8-hour-drive) so that I can meet my first couchsurfing host. I sit down on a curb and look over my options — a car full of white South Africans with kids and a dog — Boooooring. A tattered old car with a Herero family in traditional dresses and suits — interesting, but too cluttered and the car probably didn’t have any air. And suddenly, here’s a black African with a big smile on his face, a cell phone in his hand and a nice dark blue VW Golf — “classic sodomizer” I think, but what the heck, so I ask him for a ride. Turns out, two other people will be riding with us as well, so it’s going to be cozy.

To be continued…

What are Global GOLD stories? Raw, adventurous, and timely. They are related to the ways our alumni (and students connected to the Alumni Association) make an impact related to global social, cultural, political and environmental causes and concerns. The views presented are representative of the author only and not the Office for Alumni Relations.

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We’ve heard from Evelyn a few weeks ago about her experience in Japan. Read below about exciting things Evelyn has been doing while in Japan.

During my time in Japan, I have made sure that I went out and had fun that I would only be able to do while here. I’ve gone to see movies, went to a concert, and went to a play, all of which were of things that are only in Japan.

Nemuri Kyoshiro Performance

The movie I went to, Hana Mizuki, which a blossom from a dogwood tree, was a Japanese romance movie. My friends and I while here at JCMU watched a TV drama, Hana Kimi, together which one of the main actors appeared in the movie. We were all excited about our first experience going to see a movie in Japan and weren’t quite sure what it would be like. The closes theater is in the next train stop over and is a small theater. The most interesting thing about Japanese theaters though is the full menu for ordering food. While the theaters I’ve been to in America have had nachos and finger foods, however movie theaters in Japan have snacks too, they have meals, like curry. As for the theater itself, it was small with only about 10 rows of seats all flat on the floor, meaning no slant. I have had friends that have gone to a large theater about 30 minutes away on train saying it was more similar to America theaters, but the differences in small cities and larger cities is very evident.

The movie itself was a tragic romance with an eventual happy ending. I’m quite sure that Hana Mizuki is not like most romance Japanese movie though. The story took place in both in America and in Japan. American stereotypes are exist and as an American watching the movie, it made me laugh, but it didn’t distract too much from the story. Overall, it was a wonderful movie that I would love to see again. I would like to make another trip to the theater before leaving to see another movie, but with only a little bit of time left, I might not make it.

The next activity I did was going to a concert in Osaka. I went to see the Visual Kei group, the GazettE. Visual Kei is a genre in Japan, mostly of men groups where they dress extremely and play rock music. Within Visual Kei, the GazettE, is in one of the styles where they dress in very flashy punk outfits and play extreme rock. While in America, I would listen to their music a lot, so I was excite to get to see their concert.  I went with two friends from JCMU, who love the band very much. The Japanese fans for the GazettE ranged from middle school students who just got out of class all the way to middle aged women. It was quite surprising. Also, many of the fans were dressed as the members from specific music videos. During the performance, the audience had choreographed movements to all of the songs they had performed. It was quite shocking. I was assigned a seating only seat, so I felt fortunate because I knew none of the moves. We didn’t get back until around 12:30 in the morning, but it will always be a treasure experience.

Evelyn at the GazettE Concert

The final major activity was going to see a play in Nagahama. With one of the friends from the concert, I went to see Nemuri Kyoshiro, based off a series of novels and movies. While I haven’t read or watched anything from the series before, the main person in charge of the project and the lead actor is a Japanese celebrity I have been aware of since middle school. Gackt is quite famous in Japan, known by everyone, whether they have a good or a bad opinion of him is different for everyone. I was so excited to have the chance to see him in person.  The play, a samurai drama, was fabulous and was so exciting. The play had a changing digital background that required perfect timing from the perfor

mers. It felt so surreal to be able to go to one of his projects while I was in Japan, and I will never forget this experience.

With only a little time in Japan left, I hope to make to the most of it when not preparing for finals and packing.

What are Global GOLD stories? Raw, adventurous, and timely. They are related to the ways our alumni (and students connected to the Alumni Association) make an impact related to global social, cultural, political and environmental causes and concerns. The views presented are representative of the author only and not the Office for Alumni Relations.

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