University graduate begins service for Peace Corps

By Alex Swanson

University alumna Jennifer Rowley resides in Managua, Nicaragua, where she’s training for a two-year service period with the Peace Corps as an English education volunteer.

Rowley remembered listening to a presentation from a Peace Corps recruiter while she was in high school. Although she said she believes the presenter did not give enough credit to the Peace Corps, she said she still felt herself attracted to the idea.

“It was kind of like the peaceful version of the military,” said Rowley, who graduated from the University in May. “I wanted to give back to my country in a way that was more apt to the skills that I had, instead of the military.”

Jessica Mayle, a public affairs specialist for the Midwest region of Peace Corps, spoke about the purpose of the Peace Corps.

“The Peace Corps is really all about making a difference in the lives of the people served, in communities overseas, in the lives of the volunteers themselves and then back in the United States when the volunteers return home,” Mayle said.

On Aug. 12, Rowley flew from Chicago to Washington, D.C., for a 24-hour orientation. Then, she took a flight to Managua, the capital of Nicaragua.

Upon arrival, Rowley and other volunteers left on a three-day retreat to help adjust to Nicaraguan life. Mayle said one of the biggest challenges for volunteers is cultural acclimation; however, the Peace Corps offers training to combat culture shock.

Rowley will spend three months in Managua with a temporary host family for technical training. She’ll likely take Spanish language classes, a culture class and classes on how to effectively teach English in Nicaraguan schools. After her training, she will be relocated to another area of Nicaragua with a permanent host family for her two years of service.

In 2016, she will return to the United States where she intends to become a foreign service officer. She said she hopes to serve as a U.S. diplomat, live in a foreign country and keep peace relations with the U.S.

Rowley said her experience at the University helped encourage her to apply for the Peace Corps.

In February, the University was ranked No. 19 for top volunteers in comparison to other “large” universities, according to a press release from the Peace Corps.

“A lot of my professors and TAs were very open-minded, liberal and very much on that worldly track,” Rowley said.

She named Brian Dill, assistant professor of sociology, and Annie Abbott, director of undergraduate studies in the Department of Spanish, Italian and Portuguese, as professors who had the most influence on her decision to apply.

Abbott testified to the Rowley’s character as a student, saying, “Jennifer was a bright light in the class. She was committed to social justice. She was interested in the conversations we had in class.”

Abbott also spoke to the positive effect the University can have on students looking to pursue a globally conscious career.

“Our University can really set students up to be able to integrate themselves well and be useful in communities all over the world because of our strong language programs and the strong cultural components.” Abbott said.

Mayle said she believes the Peace Corps is attractive to University students.

“When they return from Peace Corps, they have their college degree from a great school like UIUC,” Mayle said. “Then they have this amazing two years in international experience, and they’re really prepared to launch a career after that.”

Those interested in applying for service with the Peace Corps can apply online and choose the programs and countries for which they’d like to be considered.

Alex can be reached at [email protected]