The first hill in a roller coaster
October 21, 2013 1 Comment
Meaghan Eicher (’13) is a Peace Corps hopeful. In today’s blog, she describes the process that brought her to her monumental decision to apply. We’ll follow Meaghan’s story and let you know the rest of her story, as soon as she knows it! (And look for the next JMU Peace Corps star on the map at the end.)
Don’t be ordinary
by Meghan Eicher (’13)
August 2005. The first time I heard the words Peace Corps I was 14 years old, walking to field hockey practice during my first week of high school. As a friend and I walked toward the field, she said, “I want to join the Peace Corps someday.” The Peace Corps? What was that? I had vaguely heard about it from somewhere, but couldn’t recall. “What’s the Peace Corps?” I asked her. She said that it was an organization where you get to live in another country doing community service work. Hmm. I was intrigued. Our minds filled with the dread of upcoming fitness drills, we didn’t talk about it again. But when I got home that night, I asked my dad about it. He said that it was a great organization and that maybe I could think about joining someday. The Peace Corps. I continued to roll the term over in my mind for the next 8 years.
Fall 2012. As a senior at JMU, I didn’t have too many classes left to take. I wanted it to be an enjoyable semester, so I decided to do something fun so that I could enjoy my last year at JMU. On a whim, I enrolled in a non-fiction writing course as an elective for my major. The first day of class, the professor, Erica Bleeg, said that her past experiences help shape her writing and that many of those experiences involve her time in the Peace Corps. Thinking back to my childhood, and how my overseas experiences have shaped me, I decided to speak with her after class one day. Though I ended up asking her a lot of questions and talking her ear off, Prof. Bleeg was incredibly insightful and very willing to share her experiences as a Peace Corps volunteer, both the good and the hard. She served in Benin, Africa, in the late 90’s, and continued to keep in touch with some of the people she had met there. Her continued love and dedication for the organization was apparent and inspired me to deeply consider it.
March 2013. My college graduation was less than two months away, and I was nowhere close to answering the question of what I would do with my life. After the millionth conversation with my parents about tweaking my resume and applying to jobs, I was up to my ears with frustration. I didn’t know what to do. It seemed that everyone else had these great jobs lined up, planned to move to far-off places, or knew exactly where they were going to grad school. On one particular day, I was so frustrated that I went up to the Community Service Office where I worked on campus, walked straight to Julie Slifer’s office, sat down in the chair next to her desk, and said: “Julie, I have no idea what I’m doing with my life.”
For the next two and a half hours, we talked. We spoke of my childhood growing up overseas in Kenya, Guyana, and France, of working with the Alternative Break program, of what it meant to possibly live a life of service. It was then that it struck me: I should actually apply to the Peace Corps. I had considered it after talking to Prof. Bleeg but kept putting it off. A friend and fellow Duke Sarah Al-Haj (’12) had left for her service placement in Fiji a few months before and shared her experiences with me, but I never took it seriously or got around to looking at the application.
When I went home that night, I spent hours online researching the Peace Corps. Who can apply? How long does the process take? Where would they send me? Would I get malaria? Will I live in a grass hut surrounded by mosquitoes? Would I have to give up my vegetarian diet? What if I couldn’t do it? It looked as if they wanted hard-core people, with a lot of specialized experience. As an English major, I had no experience in teaching about health, helping with a business plan for non-profit management, and neither did I have experience in agricultural forestry. Now what? My heart sank. I then decided to read a few of the Returned Peace Corps Volunteer stories, and it was then that I knew. You don’t have to be a hard-core person, expecting to change the lives of thousands of people. You just need to have a degree or relevant volunteer experience, dedication to service work — and the heart to do it.
I thought back to that day on the field hockey field. A chord was struck in me that day that continued to vibrate into my future. What if I could do it? A minor in Humanitarian Affairs, and talking endlessly with Prof. Mary Tacy about her service work in Haiti, has taught me about global poverty, and things being done to try and alleviate it. My participation with the Alternative Break Program has taught me the importance of volunteer work. My life growing up overseas has taught me the importance of being a global and active citizen.
So I decided to become a Peace Corps hopeful. For anyone thinking of applying, the application process will test your patience. Just know that going into it. The wishing, the hoping, and the checking your email every single minute of every day can be exhausting. There is long application to fill out, the loan questions, the volunteer experience, the essays. Then comes the interview. And the medical forms to fill out. The legal clearance. The doctors appointments. And more and more paperwork. And the waiting for even the slightest bit of information. The Peace Corps application process is like slowly climbing to the top of the first hill in a roller coaster ride. You can vaguely see what’s coming and the anticipation makes waves in your stomach. But it continues to creep, slowly inching its way to the point at the top of that hill. The point of no return.
So why did I apply to the Peace Corps? And how did JMU help me to make that decision? The Peace Corps seems to be a far-fetched idea for some people. How can one person make a difference? Can you really affect the global community and help create change? Is a two year commitment living at the poverty level really worth it? Deep down, I believe the answer is yes. If invited for a service placement, I will not go in with the expectation of moving mountains or creating unrealistic miracles. I hope to go in with the expectation of helping even just a few realize their potential, and to help them realize the world of possibility that lives out there. If I can change the life of even one person, then my decision to serve was worth it. My years at JMU haven’t just taught me how to study, how important it is to engage yourself in your studies, what happens when you put off writing a paper until midnight the night before, or what time of the day to not order coffee from Carrier Starbucks. JMU has taught me the importance of participating and being involved in the community, and what being a member of that community is all about.
JMU stresses being the change. But what does “Be the Change” even mean? I think that for each person, it means something different, but the message is the same. Don’t be an ordinary person, living a conventional life. Go out there and do something worthwhile. Use your education, your talents and your dreams to do something extraordinary. You don’t have to go out there and move mountains or live in an impoverished village for the rest of your life. But I think it means, at least for me, using your life to help someone else, even if it’s in just small way. The Peace Corps, for me, is a way to help turn those dreams of being the change into realities. I don’t pretend to know all the ins and the outs of the Peace Corps, nor do I want to be too forward and presumptuous about being invited for service. However, I do know that if offered an opportunity with the Peace Corps, I will do everything that I can to, as my alma mater so simply says, “Be the Change.”