The magazine for Western Washington University

No Typical Day

Every day is different in the Peace Corps, but several Western alumni who have served overseas shared a few details about their lives abroad

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Brenna Anderst ('11, Human Services) had the children paint murals at the youth center where she works. "By allowing the youth to have a key role in the implementation of the murals they not only take something away from the ideas behind the images but also gain a sense of pride in their Dar Chebab (youth center)," she writes. "The first mural’s theme was ‘Peace and Friendship’ and it was created on the main wall of my classroom." | Photo by courtesy of Brenna Anderst

I wake up in … a mud house in a small city in Ethiopia … an apartment in a small Moroccan town with no hot water, a squatty potty, gas camping stove and no central heat … a modest flat on the fifth floor of a Communist-era apartment building in Albania … the home of a host family in a small village in northwest Armenia … a massive four-bedroom house on the campus of a teacher’s college in Guyana.

Then head off to work, where I … advise a group of women entrepreneurs in Ethiopia … train Botswana youth how to prevent HIV/AIDS infection – and to share that knowledge with their peers … work with kids in a Moroccan youth center … work in an Albanian health clinic, counseling people with chronic hypertension … lead support groups for young mothers in Peru … help about 30 Senegalese farmers establish a cooperative … help Fijian villagers protect their endangered coral reef … teach information technology at a teacher’s college in Guyana … work in a rural village health center in Rwanda.

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My favorite meal includes … Moroccan mint tea. Most Moroccans can tell where a person is from by how they make their tea … isombe, a classic Rwandan casserole of pounded cassava leaves.

I’ve made some close friends … A fellow volunteer introduced me to four sisters and a brother who ran a vegetable and fruit stand in the market in Guyana. The family was so kind, they had us over for New Year's Day … On my one-year anniversary in my village I went to the bar in town with nine people and had a really good time. They told me stories and I just laughed. I was so naïve when I first came here and can’t believe how much I have changed this past year. After drinking, in true Fijian style, we returned to the village to drink grog until 4:30 in the morning at the rugby captain’s house … I’ve adopted a dog and a cat. Pets aren’t common in Morocco and the neighbors think I’m crazy, but the neighborhood kids are no longer afraid of the dog and even come over to take her on walks.

I find myself at home among … the beautiful setting in Albania. We’re nestled in the foothills of a rocky mountain on rolling hills above a deep valley and surrounded by snow-capped peaks. It’s paradise!

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I may wonder if it’s all worth it when … we struggle with language barriers and cultural differences, we eat strange foods like sheep’s blood and cow stomach, we sometimes feel alone and stranded in our small towns, we get parasites in our stomachs that make us very ill for weeks, and we get paid just enough to survive.

But I wouldn’t trade this experience because … I came to Peru to dedicate two years of my life to make a difference in the lives of the youth here. But it’s the Peruvians – who house me and treat me like their own, love me, teach me about their culture, who want to feed me when they barely have enough for themselves, and work beside me – who are truly giving to me. In the end I think it’s really they who are changing my life and are making a difference for me.

It helps that my time at Western taught me … how to value cultural differences. And my time at Fairhaven prepared me to handle coming up with a creative project idea and following through even with a lose sense of direction from above … Huxley College fostered a sense of continuous curiosity and the spirit of active learning. That really influenced the way I looked at training and language learning here in Fiji. I found new people to talk to, asked to help people with daily tasks, and I learned so much in such a short period of time.

I’m getting used to … almost nightly kava sessions. Meeting with villagers around a shared coconut cup of muddy water is the best way to build trust in Fiji. So much of the educational process of environmental resource management is accomplished around a bowl of grog.

At the end of the day I’ll receive the best care package ever, filled with … quinoa … letters, photos, extra-crunchy peanut butter, Oregon Trail chai … coffee, duct tape and playing cards … a WWU shirt from my little brother … recent magazines, batteries, homemade treats, material for new clothes.

And contemplate my future … working with global development organizations … traveling through Africa and Europe … and Suriname and the Caribbean islands … earning a master’s degree in Public Health or going to medical school … teaching English in China … returning to my mental health practice.

I know I won’t be the same … The biggest thing I learned was not so much about farming peanuts, or West African business, but the ability to make real, personal connections with people. We were able to share our lives with each other and both walked away very inspired, very changed.

By Brenna Anderst (’11, Human Services), Morocco; Tracy (Slingland) Asher (’82, Recreation), Philippines 1983 to 1985; Kayla Britt (’09, Communication), Rwanda; Ryan Hemingway (’00, Political Science/Economics), Guyana 2001-2003; Helen Jones (’09, Fairhaven Interdisciplinary Concentration), Ethiopia; Erin Middleton (’09, Environmental Education), Armenia, 2010-2012; Kendra Pittman (’12, Human Services), Peru; Robert Ranger (’88, Fairhaven Interdisciplinary Concentration), Botswana 2007-2009; Samantha Russell (’11, Environmental Science – Marine Ecology), Fiji; Emily Thorn (’10, Anthropology – Biocultural Concentration), Albania; and Byron Yee (’09, Theatre, Business-Management) Senegal, 2009-2011.