My name is Roberta Blaho, and I am a 2017 graduate of Bucknell University in Pennsylvania with a BS in Biomedical Engineering. My hometown is one state over in Columbus, Ohio. Although I have lived in the Midwest my entire life, I absolutely love travelling. I boarded a plane for the first time at the age of 4 months to visit my parents’ native country, Hungary. Since then I have been lucky enough to travel and volunteer in various countries across Europe, Central America, and South America. I studied abroad in Ireland for a semester at the National University of Ireland at Galway. While this semester allowed me to make many new friends and experience another country, it did not provide the level of cultural immersion I desired. In reality, I realized I wanted to bridge the gap between cultures and help and understand people living in different lifestyles. I had considered living abroad after college when I was a freshman, but the idea went to the backburner as my college life progressed. At the end of junior year, my senior friend mentioned she would be going into the Peace Corps. Talking to her reignited my desire to live and volunteer abroad and ultimately led me to the Peace Corps. Honestly, at what other point in your life are you as free to pick up and move? And so began my time with the Peace Corps.
When researching the Peace Corps volunteer opportunities, I started by picking jobs that interested me based on the descriptions. I wanted a position that did not merely use my native English-speaking abilities but was more related to what I learned during college. I also narrowed down the positions based on when they departed (i.e. they must depart after graduation) and when they returned (i.e. they must return before September 2019 so that I can start graduate school). This process led to two countries: Ghana and Mongolia. The two positions in Ghana were a secondary school biology teacher or a chemistry teacher. The position in Mongolia was as a Public Health Volunteer working with adolescents. I thought the Public Health Volunteer position would be the most interesting in combination with my Biomedical Engineering background. When I applied, I ranked Mongolia first and Ghana second and third. In the end, I was only considered for Mongolia, which was fine by me. Plus, my mom likes to say that this way I get to go back to my roots since the Hungarians’ ancestors, the Magyars originated from around the same geographic location as the Mongols. I’m just excited to immerse in a new culture in a beautiful country most people never visit!
What is the Peace Corps?
Founded by President John F. Kennedy in 1961, the Peace Corps is a United States government run organization that sends volunteers to other countries. The mission statement of the Peace Corps is to
“promote world peace and friendship by fulfilling three goals:
- to help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women
- to help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served
- to help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans”.
The Peace Corps has gone to 141 countries since its formation and serves the following geographical locations: Africa, Latin America, Eastern Europe/Central Asia (i.e. old Soviet bloc countries), Asia (as in non-Soviet bloc countries), Pacific Islands, Caribbean, and North Africa/Middle East. Volunteers typically work in six areas: education, health, environment, youth in development, community economic development, and agriculture. They serve as “teachers, business advisors, information technology consultants, and health and HIV/AIDS educators” (Peace Corps Accomplishments 2001-2004). Volunteers receive a monthly living expense and a readjustment allowance upon returning to the US.
One quote that truly encompasses the goals of the Peace Corps is that of past Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet. In an interview with Kelli Rogers of Devex about her time as the Director, Hessler-Radelet stated:
“We play a unique and very important role in the U.S. government. We are the last mile development workers, but we are also the last mile citizen diplomats of our nation. In this increasingly complex and interconnected world, our country needs to have Americans who speak other languages, understand other perspectives, and are able to find commonality with people of all nations. I deeply hope that this nation understands the importance of having good strong relationships not only with the leaders of nations around the world but also with the people of nations to ensure that they understand our priorities and want to partner with us, that they share our values, and that they’re committed to human rights and justice and dignity and development of their own people”.
Facts were taken from the Peace Corps website and a couple ad-libs were added by me.