A lot of people have asked me how a Midwest boy who grew up his whole life in a small farming community moved all the way to West Africa. Well, let me tell you how I joined the Peace Corps. I attended Wabash College after high school and majored in Spanish with three semesters of Portuguese. During my senior year, I went to study for my first-semester exams in the library. I ran into a buddy applying for the Peace Corps and a short conversation turned into me asking tons of questions about the organization. I am one to procrastinate, but I’m also a true believer that everything will work out, as long as you stay focused, have faith, and maintain a positive attitude. At the same time, as you might have guessed, my mother and father were beginning to ask about my career aspirations after graduation. I would respond with the casual…. “Eh, I’m not sure. Let me pass comps first, then I’ll begin looking and thinking about that”. Wabash has senior comprehensive exams, which is an accumulation of the students four years of course studies condensed into written and oral comps. They are during the last week of winter break, and if you pass (and meet the other requirements) you graduate, and if you fail….. well, you get the picture.
(P.S. my response to my parents was a strategy to delay job hunting a litttttttle bit longer)
After that conversation with my friend, I went into the library and researched a little about the Peace Corps (instead of studying). Before long, I knew that Peace Corps was my job after graduation. So studying for finals and comps was set a side and I proceeded to apply to the Peace Corps with my first choice being South America (Spanish major remember), and 2nd choice Eastern Africa (Hoping for Mozambique – a Portuguese speaking country).
I then made a call to my mom… “I applied for my FIRST JOB!!!!” This is how that conversation took place: (It was roughly 7 years ago so it’s not direct quotes, but I can imagine it being pretty similar)
Mom: Hey hunny, how’s studying going?
Me: Hey! Everything is going well, but I didn’t study tonight.
Mom: Oh really?! Why not? Is everything okay?
Me: Yeah, do you know the Peace Corps? (I tend to be very direct)
Mom: Yeah, why?
Me: Well, I just applied. I am going to join the Peace Corps and be a volunteer in South America. That way I can perfect my Spanish, see another culture, and continue traveling.
Mom: …….. (a long silence) Ummmm, I think you need to come home this weekend so we can talk about this. (I only live 15 minutes away from Wabash College)
Me: I thought you would be excited that I finally applied for a job and know what I want to do after graduation.
Mom: Yes, I am happy, but I would still like to discuss this decision with you.
They may have a different interpretation of good news! However, to the delight and major shock of both my mother and father, they were supportive.
Fast forward to the Friday of memorial day weekend of 2012 and I receive a call from the Peace Corps explaining I have been accepted to Cameroon and will be leaving September 2012. I remember distinctly asking, where is Cameroon? The recruiter explained it is in French-speaking West Africa, but they also speak English. She also told me I would be an agro-forestry volunteer. The art of incorporating trees inside ones farm for better yields and less natural set-backs from wind, erosion, and heat. I was dumbfounded at this point – I had my sites set on South America or Mozambique to hone skill set. I asked if I could discuss the posting to Cameroon with my family members and think about it over the weekend and if she would call me Tuesday, I would have an answer.
Immediately, I got off the phone and I called my grandma. She is very calming and believes the same as me that things happen for a reason. So I excitedly told her the good news and predicament (I thought) that I will be going to a French-speaking country in Africa. She helped my nerves and calmed me down by asking three simple questions. Have you prayed? Why did you join the Peace Corps? Is the Peace Corps what you want?
The answers were: 1) No. 2) To serve others, help the less fortunate achieve their goals, and to be able to travel and learn about other cultures. 3) Yes
She then told me to go behind my house, sit at our log cabin (picture), and think and pray about my decision. Our house was built-in the 1890’s, and in the 1970’s, a log cabin was built. The cabin has been great for birthday parties, fires, reading, and most important for me, reflection. I sat out at the cabin with my trusted dog, Liska, for a few hours listening to the birds chirping, smell of fresh-cut grass, farm, and my thoughts. The same thought kept coming back to me, “I cannot say no to Cameroon for selfish, first world reasons. I applied to the Peace Corps to continue my philanthropy and try to help another culture or set of people achieve their goals and desires.”
After accepting the fact I will be living in Cameroon for the next two years of my life I decided to tell the rest of my family and friends. Many of my friends knew of Cameroon because of arguably the greatest soccer player from Africa, Samuel Eto’o.
Having made my decision, the memorial day weekend was a blast. The 8 AM call from the recruiter met me with surprise. She asked for my decision and I said yes!!!
Over the past 5 years, I look on that fateful day that has changed my adulthood and life forever. Peace Corps truly makes a difference!! I am thankful for JFK’s forethought and his speech at Michigan University to start the Peace Corps and allow the youth to serve while exchanging cultures.
Happy 57th birthday Peace Corps. Learn about the birth of the Peace Corps here!
My host family were HUGE!!!! X-men fans! I hope they have had the opportunity to watch the new trailblazing movie, BlackPanther!
Waterfalls where the first Tarzan was filmed! Chutes d’Ekom
D’Jango, my counterpart and confidant, playing Cornhole!
Photos from my Peace Corps days!