What I Told the Peace Corps — Aspiration Statement

IMG_2646In October 2014, after 8 months from application to acceptance into the Peace Corps, I was asked to complete an Aspiration Statement. In many ways, I’m still on the Camino walk I took in the spring as a means of helping to determine if I were up for a new adventure. I’m following what seemed to work then, simply putting one foot in front of the other and anticipating what’s around the next bend…

A: Three professional attributes that you plan to use during your Peace Corps service …

One of my best friends (and my frequent international travel buddy) volunteered with the Peace Corps more than 30 years ago. In the 20 years, I’ve known him, he has inspired and challenged me with his stories of crossing cultures, learning life lessons, and finding ways to “make do with what you have.”  I aspire to meet similar challenges with enthusiasm and grace and to both inspire and be inspired as a member of the Costa Rica TEFL team.  The professional attributes I bring to the proverbial table include:

Creativity – I make a game of standing before my refrigerator and making at least a “diner-quality” meal on whatever I find there. As a communications professional with three decades of experience and all in the religious, political and nonprofit sectors, I know what it is like to work with a limited or nonexistent budget. My go-to resource is always perspective – rather than say what we “can’t do,” I work with my clients and colleagues in identifying what we have and how we can use it for new purposes … which leads to the next attribute …

Resourceful — Trying to see things as both how they are and how they could be means nothing unless you have the energy to put the pieces together, the tenacity to be persistent when the first answers don’t work out just right, and the recall to remember who you know and what they know. I’ve also gained the confidence of clients – particularly in the nonprofit world – as I made the right connections to the right project at the right time.

Communicative – I was particularly drawn to the Peace Corps expectations of “respectfully integrating yourself into your host community and culture” with a “spirit of cooperation, mutual learning and respect.” Throughout my career, I’ve leaned on these ideas as I’ve attempted to “translate” one audience to another. Communication is more than what comes out of one’s mouth or from one’s keyboard. Communication happens when information has been received, processed, added to, delivered and recapped. I’m a lifelong learner (hence the desire to be a Peace Corps volunteer post-50) and look forward to learning from colleagues who may have only recently completed their formal education because they will have new approaches to share, the Peace Corps staff who will have proven techniques, and, of course, the community who have a wealth of history and their own aspirations to draw upon. I specifically bring experience as a writer, curriculum developer, trainer of trainers, and communications strategist to what we will achieve together.

B: Briefly identify two strategies for working effectively with host country partners to meet expressed needs.

I’ve spent a career teaching that effective communication encompasses four things: Know yourself, Know your audience, Know your message, and Know the best channels for conveying that message. Following this approach, I would use the attributes I mention above to identify creative interactive experiences that take teachers/trainers beyond the rote memorization techniques they are accustomed to using and are based on their interests. As a board member of one of the top ten art festivals in the U.S., a consultant with organizations that are part of the renowned health community of Houston, and a volunteer with groups that deal with everything from homelessness to AIDs and the theater, I would call on relationships for the resources to provide

 

education that is both engaging and transformative. Sometimes these resources might come in the form of visits to deliver weekend retreats, workshops and conferences. Sometimes it may simply be ideas exchanges.

After getting to know my audience better, I would want to help create strategies that last beyond the short-term obtaining of information and move toward systemic answers that reflect cultural nuances. I’ve used various tools – most recently a Transformational Index that I helped beta test which enables users to create quantitative measurements for qualitative change.  The tool might not be a resource to utilize in Costa Rica, but the thinking behind it could certainly be helpful to a learning community.

C: Your strategy for adapting to a new culture with respect to your own cultural background.

When I teach about “knowing yourself and knowing your audience,” I always underscore that what makes us who we are is a combination of social/economic/educational experience, birth order, personality type/temperament, learning style, phase of life, generational concerns, gender, spiritual development and culture. When I travel, I make it a point to keep this in mind and remember that sharing of cultures is a two-way endeavor. I want to listen as much as I talk (maybe even more so but I am chatty!).  Even though I currently reside in one of the largest urban settings in America, I am still very much a “small town girl” with eyes wide open and curious about every culture I encounter. Listen, learn, and adapt (while staying true to who I am at my core) has been a successful strategy in my travels to date.

D: The skills and knowledge you hope to gain during pre-service training to best serve …

  • Learning more about my team and the resources available to us as we collaborate on potential projects
  • More about TEFL approach to teaching. (I will study the resources prior to determine the similarities between that approach and CELTA in which I was trained.)
  • Effective channels of communication that have already been employed in teaching in Costa Rica.

E: How you think Peace Corps service will influence your personal and professional aspirations …

The mental model that has shaped my life is an image of me as a much older woman, white hair and skirt slightly blowing in the wind as I exit a warm and inviting space in order to welcome new arrivals who have come to me in search of rest and restoration. I don’t see myself as the source of those desires but as a resource, a means by which others can discover all they feel they were created to be.

I use that “word picture” more than any written mission/vision statement because I don’t like to restrict myself to what I know now. I’m a big proponent of systems thinking. One of those principles is that “every change changes everything.” So via my thinking and my experience to date, I KNOW I will be changed by the Peace Corps experience. I KNOW that I will add to my creative reservoir, my resources, my communications tool set. To be the person in my life’s mental model, I have to be open and ready to collect experiences and learning that will be attractive – experiences I can’t articulate because to do so would limit me.  Peace Corps will be more than teaching English, more than crossing cultures, more than continuing to foster positive experiences cross-generationally. How much more I don’t yet know, but I look forward to the adventure.

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KC

Started in Tennessee, spent time in Alabama and made way to Costa Rica after 20 years in Texas. I've focused on communications professionally in the worlds of church, government and nonprofits. Now I'm feeding my longtime love of volunteering as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Costa Rica. Just in case you don't know me very well ... The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps.

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