By Rachel Morford, news correspondent
Since its founding in 1961, more than 220,000 Americans have served with the Peace Corps. This week, Northeastern graduate Taylor Blydenburgh of Westhampton Beach, N.Y., who earned degrees in both international affairs and Arabic in 2015, joined its ranks for 27 months. Before departure, Blydenburgh shared some thoughts about her decision to serve.
The Huntington News: Can you summarize your upcoming Peace Corps placement?
Taylor Blydenburgh: I will be living and working in Ethiopia as of June 28. I will have a 12-week training in Addis Ababa. Halfway through the training, I will then be given my location assignment. As of now, there’s no real way to know where exactly I’ll be placed, but the location will most likely be a rural town or village.
HN: What experiences do you have with international traveling?
TB: I’ve lived abroad multiple times. When I was 16, I lived in Savoie, France for a year as an exchange student. During university, I studied abroad for three months at a time in both Jordan and Greece. Recently, I was living and working in Paris for four months.
HN: What past experiences do you have with service work?
TB: Before serving with the Peace Corps, I was a volunteer English instructor with Jewish Vocational Services in Boston. Here, I taught refugees from various countries vocational English language skills in order to help them be successful within American society. During university, I was also an Arabic language teaching assistant for author and professor Shakir Mustafa at Northeastern. Although teaching was not my primary motivation for applying to the Peace Corps, it did assure me that I am capable to adapt to a foreign teaching environment and help produce success in and out of the classroom.
HN: How do your friends and family feel about this momentous decision?
TB: I’ve always remained very determined in the goals I seek to achieve in my life. My family has stood by and witnessed this on different occasions. Both my family and friends are supportive because they know that this is something important to me and that I’m going to continue on with this goal no matter the obstacle. Simply put, they’re aware that this is something I was going to do with or without support. Nonetheless, I deeply appreciate all the support I’ve received.
HN: Can you describe your eventual role as a volunteer?
TB: My main project will be performing as a secondary school English teacher. I will also be participating in the Let Girls Learn initiative while in Ethiopia, which supports gender equality. There is the [potential] of taking on other initiatives while in Ethiopia, but I won’t have the opportunity to commit until being in country.
HN: What are you presently most excited about?
TB: I am incredibly excited for the challenge of integrating myself into Ethiopian culture. Only through integration will I be able to aid anyone I work with. Finding comfort in being incredibly uncomfortable has always been an attractive process that I’ve sought out and appreciated. I look forward to helping those I work with through the mission of the Peace Corps, and I look forward to gaining the precise skill set of incentivized adaptability and critical problem solving that only the Peace Corps can offer me. My students, and others I work with, will be aiding me in achieving this skill set just as much as I help them with their objectives in and out of the English language. I view the Peace Corps as less of a volunteer mission and more of a cultural trade.
HN: What do you think you’ll miss most?
TB: I can only imagine what I’ll miss since I haven’t fully been exposed to Ethiopia. However, I can imagine that I’ll miss water pressure, reliable Wi-Fi and the Atlantic. Evidently, I will miss my friends and family more than anything.
Photo courtesy Emily Webb