This is how I picture Dabo giving me free season tickets for life after I return:
Here's a sneak peek of what I typed up in response to the editor's interview questions:
Q1: You’re working in the Peace Corps. How long have you been serving and where are you located?
I've been serving in the Peace Corps for almost seven months in the Eastern Caribbean, one of the original posts since the Peace Corps' inception in 1961. My post is unique because it is spread out across four individual nations, with the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic making it difficult to visit newly made PC friends. When I first arrived for staging in Miami this past June I did not know which island I would actually serve on until I completed seven weeks of training on St Lucia. Overall, I spent two months of intensive training on St Lucia with my entire Peace Corps Trainee group (the 87th to serve in the Eastern Caribbean) where we lived individually with local families. During week seven, we were divided up, Harry Potter style, for our specific islands. I jumped out of my seat when I found out “the sorting hat” had placed me in Grenada. Eight of us from the original 32 flew to Grenada. There, minus one piece of missing luggage, I lived with another local family and commuted by bus to the picturesque capital, St. George's, for one more month of Peace Corps training. After being sworn in as an official volunteer and passing training, I have been living in my community on my own and working in our primary school as a primary English literacy co-teacher. There are three goals of my assignment: Goal 1: Increase Student Success Primary school students in the Eastern Caribbean will improve literacy, personal development skills and/or raise academic success through classroom and extracurricular activities. Goal 2: Improve Teaching Skills Primary school teachers in the Eastern Caribbean will implement more effective and responsive literacy instructional techniques in the classroom. Goal 3: Improve School, Family, and Community Partnerships Members of Eastern Caribbean communities will support students through increased participation in literacy-focused initiatives at school and at home.
Q2: What was your motivation for applying and how did your Clemson education play into that?
Before joining the Peace Corps, I was a sixth-grade social studies teacher for two years and I absolutely loved it. Yet a part of me longed to see and travel to the places I taught about in my world history classroom at Greer Middle School. Plus it seemed like an amazing adventure, a now or never opportunity. Although I will say we have a seventy-seven-year-old in my cohort who inspires me to realize my twenties aren't the only time I'll hopefully have to go exploring.
My time spent as a graduate and undergraduate student at Clemson University played a major role in my decision to become a Peace Corps volunteer. As a history major, I was required to take a Non-Western world history course and I registered for Dr. James Burns' Sub-Saharan Africa course. Dr. Burns shared stories of his Fulbright experience in Africa and had us complete a final assignment where I to had to fill out an actual Fulbright application to live and study in Botswana. This was my first exposure to the Fulbright program and seeing opportunities out there to travel study, and work in places in had only dreamed of. Also as an undergrad, I was able to take advantage of Clemson University's study abroad programs and studied abroad at the University of Saint Andrews in Scotland where I tried to play golf, I went to class too, at the Old Course each week. It was one of the best experiences of my life and I have the Clemson study abroad office to thank for it. Last but not least by any measure, I was inspired to join the Peace Corps because of the coursework and professors I had while obtaining my Master of Arts in Teaching at The University Center of Greenville. I was especially inspired by Dr. Lienne Medford and Dr. Joyce Beckett who taught me how to be a capable, caring, and connected teacher. Those three core expectations from Clemson's College of Education guided and molded me to be the best teacher for my students both domestically and abroad. My professors taught me to make a wholehearted effort to never stop learning, to stayed up-to-date on the best teaching practices, to genuinely care about the well-being of each and every one of my students, and to foster relationships with community members, colleagues, and parents.
Q3: What are your responsibilities there? What are you proudest of? What’s been the biggest challenge?
I'm an education volunteer in the Peace Corps so my primary assignment is to work at my community's school.
There have been three examples so far that stand out to me as my proudest moments my Peace Corps experience, one even just happen less than 24 hours prior to this interview. The first would be the renovation efforts of my school's library in the first month of being an official volunteer. My school's original building was destroyed by Hurricane Ivan in 2004. Like many buildings on the island, the roof was completely torn off and blown away. The devastated structure still sits waiting to be rebuilt. Ever resourceful, though, my school still uses the fields next door for gym classes and cricket matches. Currently, my school is housed temporarily down the road in a building meant for church related events so we often have to take down our classroom materials and move student's desks out of the way throughout the school year if the church is hosting a function or celebration. With the help of my fellow teachers, we were able to make a huge change to the library in only two weeks. We sorted through piles of books damaged by termites, water, and I was even greeted by a rat hiding in a box. I'm really proud that I didn't scream or even flinch. We donated books that were not appropriate for primary aged students, if anyone would like a copy of “Don't Sweat the Small Stuff for Grandparents” I still have about a hundred or so, to local families and churches. We painted every inch of the library, cataloged every book, and created an inviting space for the students to read. I even hung my Peace Corps-issued mosquito net to create a reading tent. The library is now able to host classes, individuals, and a reading club after school.
The second thing I'm proudest of thus far is being able to bring back three suitcases full of Christmas presents for my students, including one suitcase of new books, after I returned home unexpectedly in order to attend my Grandfather's funeral. My Grandfather always served others and made everyone around him feel special so it made perfect sense for my family and hometown to honor his memory by donating Christmas presents and books for my small school in Grenada. Thanks to Jet Blue too for overlooking the weight of my suitcase full of books.
The last thing I'm most proud of and something I call my “George Bailey” moment in recognition of one of my favorite movies “It's a Wonderful Life,” happen less than 24 hours prior to Clemson World Magazine's interview. I always walk about three miles home with a few of my students along the way. It's honestly my favorite part of the day. My students help teach me about Grenada by pointing out all the different things to see on our walk. From where the shortcut to the waterfall is located to how a pineapple can grow on a power-line or on the side of a palm tree. Plus they often pick fruit or give me a cookie to eat on our way to our homes. On this particular walk home from school, I decided to ask their parents if I could buy my students some cokes and visit the waterfalls. I didn't bring my bathing suit along, but I was happy to supervise on the sidelines and take pictures. My students changed out of their school uniforms to play in the water and I jokingly said to them don't worry I used to be a lifeguard as they climbed on the rocks in front of the falls. As soon as the words came out of my mouth, one of my third graders slipped into a pool at the base of the falls that was too deep and he did not know how to swim. I was using my cellphone to film the beauty of our backyard and instantly realized I needed to jump in to get him out. In less than ten seconds, I threw my phone and got him out as quickly as possible. The phone was still filming and another third grader in our group picked it up and filmed Miss Lyons now swimming in her wet school clothes. It was the most terrifying ten seconds of my life but in that moment I realized that I was exactly where I was meant to be. At waterfall in Grenada on a Monday afternoon. Now all my students are begging me to take them to the waterfalls this week and a few tourists from the UK got a funny photo of me swimming in my clothes carrying two kindergartners in my arms.
The most challenging part of my Peace Corps experience is missing my family and friends back in the United States. I also absolutely hate that I missed this Clemson football season, of all seasons to miss. Luckily, I have a local friend who helped me host a party, or fete as it is called here, for the Clemson-Notre Dame game. With modern technology, I've been able to watch almost every game including ESPN's College Gameday. In the Eastern Caribbean, cricket, and football (soccer) is king but slowly I'm trying to share how great American football can be with my new friends in Grenada. Although I do get homesick, I probably should mention that it has been challenging trying to communicate with people back home that I'm not serving in the so-called “Beach Corps.” Although Grenada has a natural beauty that cannot be ignored and scenery that looks like a postcard at every turn, we as Peace Corps volunteers work tirelessly as ambassadors of the American spirit of hard work and ingenuity in our new communities. For example, I spent this Thanksgiving not eating turkey with my family but in my school making a Christmas tree out of encyclopedias for my students and teaching phonics lessons. This is definitely not a vacation!
Q4: Who are the other Clemson alumni in the area that you have met? Where are they stationed? Do you all get together regularly?
One of the things that helps me feel less homesick is seeing how far the Clemson Family travels. I've become involved with a hiking group in Grenada and proudly wore a Clemson shirt since it was a college football Saturday to my first hash, when I was stopped by not one but three alumni of Clemson University as we ran along Grand Anse beach. It was one of my first weekends in Grenada and I instantly felt welcomed. All three Clemson alumni are current veterinary medicine students at Saint George's University on the island. During my first few weeks on island, at the Grenada National Museum I met another Clemson alumnus and also Returned Peace Corps Volunteer who is a local author and historian, he came to our swearing in ceremony and I was ecstatic to have another Clemson family member present for such an important day in my life.
I've also had the pleasure of finding out from someone in my Peace Corps cohort, we all keep in touch although we are spread out over hundreds of miles, who is stationed in Dominica thatClemson University has a presence in his community. I had no idea until I came to the Eastern Caribbean that Clemson has the Archbold Tropical Research and Education Center in Dominica. He contacted Dr. John Hains and is looking forward to combining Peace Corps efforts with Clemson's by connecting Clemson students with local schools through Clemson's 'Service Learning Alliance'. I'm also looking forward to visiting Dominica and hopefully visiting the Archbold Tropical Research and Education Center too!
One of my favorite volunteers in my training group is also a South Carolinian, from Sumter. Although she would look better in orange she roots for the other team but I let that slide.
Q5: What have you learned about yourself and the world through this experience?
In only a short amount of time this experience has humbled me beyond belief. I initially came into the Peace Corps with an ill-conceived “Beach Corps” mentality. I couldn't believe my luck that my invitation to serve said the Caribbean on it! My initial online research brought up pictures of white sand beaches, the beautiful Pitons, and coconut filled palm trees. It even seemed like half my high school went on their honeymoon to St Lucia or was planning one that same year. After digging below the surface here, or really anywhere for that matter, I now realize that there is always something or someone who you can offer a helping hand to. There are individuals working diligently in both the United States and here in the Eastern Caribbean to make the world just a tiny bit better by doing their part. My late Grandfather had a famous quote by Vince Lombardi hanging in his home and one part of the quote really jumped out at me after spending some time in the Peace Corps. It said, “We must help the poor but let us cheer for the doer, the achiever, let us recognize excellence more and dissidence less.” This quote epitomizes what my Peace Corps experience has taught me. That an individual, the doers in the world, do make a positive impact. This appreciation for volunteerism and achievement is something I've always recognized as part of ClemsonUniversity's spirit and I'm proud to be a small part of this legacy as I continue to serve in the Peace Corps.