Finding a dream far away, making it happen at home
On July 1, 2015, bleary-eyed and sleep deprived, I slowly stumbled off the plane I had been on for over 13 hours and on to the tarmac of theBole International Airport in Bole, Ethiopia.
I, along with 63 other volunteers, had finally reached our destination as Peace Corps education volunteers. I hadn’t really slept in days, due to my tearful goodbyes to my family members and friends a few days prior. My nerves had caught up with me during our “getting to know each other” event in Washington, D.C., and I hadn’t been able to sleep on the plane. I followed the line of people to the customs area, where we sat and waited in line for about two hours. We were all anxious to get to our hotel rooms, hoping to have time for a quick nap. However, Peace Corps Ethiopia had other ideas.
We were ushered into the hotel and were told to select roommates and our sessions would begin in one hour. I have little memories of this day and could not tell you for my life what we were told. I just remember feeling exhausted, mentally, physically and emotionally. It had been a long process, between completing the application and flying out, it had taken a year.
The Peace Corps is a two-year commitment and volunteers are sent all over the world and do various jobs. I was set to be an English teacher in rural Ethiopia. During our training for the first three months, we live with a host family and after that we live on our own in our final sites. I was scared and nervous and excited and ready to begin my two-year journey.
Unfortunately, that is not what happened. I had contracted MRSA about a month after being there and wound up being sent to the hospital multiple times for treatment. For some reason, we had the hardest time curing it and due to the length of the infection, I was left with some damage to the right arm. While the damage would eventually heal in time, I was medically separated and sent back home only six months into the program.
I was devastated; I did not want to leave. I had made some amazing friends, both American and Ethiopian and loved teaching.
Truth be told, I was a bit of a mess when I came back. I was very obviously depressed and angry. I had finally found what I wanted to do with my life, become a teacher, and had it ripped from me. I began looking into options on how to get my teaching license here in America. The alternative route options were incredibly expensive and going back to school without much financial aid was not an option. I felt more lost than ever.
A few months after coming back, my mother and I ran into Jean Shaw. She had suggested I apply to the Mississippi Teacher Corps, which is run here at the University of Mississippi’s School of Education. I vaguely remembered that I had looked into it before, but didn’t feel like I was qualified. Its website stated it was highly competitive and felt that I had already gotten lucky with getting accepted into Peace Corps and I didn’t feel like I could pull that off again.
It’s highly competitive for a good reason. The program is set up similarly to the Peace Corps. You are placed in low-income areas to teach and agree to the two-year commitment, and in exchange you received not only a teaching certificate, but also a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction with a full scholarship. Participants in the program attend classes during the two-year program in summers and weekends to earn their master’s degree, while teaching during the school year.
However, it was free to apply and I figured the worst they could say was no. So I applied and checked my email every day, multiple times, for two weeks after. Their website stated that usually you would hear a response in about that time frame if you were selected for an interview or not. The two weeks came and went, and I gave up on it, figuring I had been passed over.
A few days after I had given up, I got a phone call I never expected. It was Ethiopia’s Country Desk Office at the Peace Corps. I had asked if I was eligible for reinstatement a few days before the email was sent, and they told me they’d look into it. She had called me to let me know that if I wanted to, I could rejoin the program with the new group going this July.
I was ecstatic! I could finally go back to where I wanted to be! I just had to figure out a way to tell my family again.
So, with my future set, my depression was fully dissipated. No longer was I upset over leaving Ethiopia or not getting in to the Mississippi Teacher Corps.
But, sometimes life is funny. Everything seems to be taken away from you, only to then overwhelm you with decisions. About a week or so later, I got an email from the Mississippi Teacher Corps asking me to set up an interview.
I did the interview and was told I would hear something in a week or so. Exactly a week later, I received an email explaining I had been offered a spot in the program and was given a few days time to accept.
I now had to choose and it was awful. Both programs were amazing, but I knew that I was going to choose the Mississippi Teacher Corps. I loved Peace Corps and missed Ethiopia terribly, but I needed to think about my future and what was best for me now. The Mississippi Teacher Corps is an amazing program and I knew I would be silly to give that up. So, I accepted the position in the program and called Peace Corps to let them know.
Sometimes I wonder if I made the right decision. In some ways, choosing Peace Corps would have been the easier choice. I know the program and the language spoken there. I knew the staff and other volunteers. But, I would have been backtracking and holding on to something instead of experiencing something new. My short time in Peace Corps gave me more than I could have ever given back. I pushed myself in ways I never thought possible and found my calling. I may have never realized how much I love teaching if it wasn’t for my time there.
I’m now excited and a bit nervous about beginning my time with the Mississippi Teacher Corps. I will meet a new group of people who share the same passion of teaching and will challenge myself in a new way.
And, who knows, the Peace Corps isn’t going anywhere.
AMANDA SCHNUGG is an Oxford resident and can be reached at email@example.com.