A van named Betty

Kourtney Rusow 1Kourtney Rusow (’08) is an RPCV — an acronym familiar to Kourtney and friends. It’s short for Returned Peace Corps Volunteer. Like April Muniz, Erika Bleeg, Meme McKee and others, Kourtney did a two-year stint in the corps. After graduating from James Madison University with a degree in psychology, she headed to Senegal. Read on to learn about Kourtney’s experience and find out what she — and Betty — have been up to lately!

Kourtney and the corps

submitted by April Muniz (’90)

What inspired you to join the Peace Corps?

Kourtney Rusow 3KR:  Joining Peace Corps was a goal of mine since graduating high school. I really admired the people I had met who had served, and thought that I could greatly expand my world view and life experiences by joining the Peace Corps. When I discovered that I could combine my graduate studies with two-years of service through Peace Corps Master’s International Program, I couldn’t ignore what a tremendous advantage this would give me in the international job market. It has been a real chance to put what I have learned in the classroom to the test in the field.

How would you describe your work as a Peace Corps Volunteer?

KR: I was a health volunteer from May 2010 to May 2012. As the first volunteer in my village, I spent a lot of time integrating into the community, doing surveys and feeling out what the community’s wants and needs were. I painted six murals at my health hut, depicting educational scenes on specific issues such as HIV/AIDS, Malaria, hygiene, etc. On a monthly basis I worked with my health committee to discuss issues in the community that need to be addressed. I held monthly baby weighing events and aided in vaccination campaigns. I also became involved in Peace Corps’ Africa-wide initiative to stomp out malaria by educating about malaria prevention and distributing bed nets to keep people from getting bitten by mosquitoes.Prior to joining the Peace Corps, what type of work were you involved in?

KR: Right after I graduated from JMU, I spent the summer traveling, living on a commune in Israel and volunteering in Peru. I moved to New Orleans where I attended Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, focusing on International Health and Nutrition. After finishing my coursework, I spent the summer in Italy working for the ministry of health. The six months before I left for Peace Corps, I lived in Eugene, Ore., the place I call home, and worked for AmeriCorps with the Willamette Farm and Food Coalition as a farm to school and nutrition program assistant.

Kourtney Rusow 2What are you doing now?

KR: Every RPCV returns home with a heightened sense of perspective, and often a large amount of anxiety about the future. In May of 2012, after travelling through Southeast Asia for a little over a month, and nervously turning down a fellowship with the Clinton Foundation in India, I decided to hit the road in my 1969 VW camper van named Betty. I pretty much lived out of my van going across the country, returning to New Orleans, visiting fellow RPCVs and easing into what would be 6 months of odd jobs in the film and restaurant industries.

By November and interview after interview with organizations that just didn’t fit, I found my current job in disaster relief and development at International Medical Corps (where I sit on staff with two fellow Dukes and numerous Tulane Alumni). My current position is a natural segue from my previous education and volunteerism into humanitarian relief work, as I manage the country portfolios of several country programs in health and nutrition within North and Central Africa.

Search this blog for more stories on Madison people who are serving and have served in the American Peace Corps. At last count, there were more than 400 of them. And follow along as we fill out a world map with the places they have served.


About James Madison University
This blog is about the people of James Madison University — a caring, committed and engaged community spread all over the world, making lives better and brighter, healthier and safer, kinder and bolder. As Gandhi suggested, we are taking steps to BE the CHANGE we wish to see in the world. And these are our stories....

One Response to A van named Betty

  1. Pingback: Gaining a new lens | James Madison University's Be the Change

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