by Kristen Wigand, '18
psychology major, sociology minor
Over the years, I’ve become a firm believer in ‘Everything happens for a reason.’ My life has demonstrated this to me in a variety of ways. I feel that I was even brought to Loyola for many reasons. In turn, it brought me many gifts, in the form of people, education, challenges, and personal growth. Put simply, my decision to attend Loyola helped mold me into who I am today.
Currently, I’m serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Namibia. For those who may not know, Namibia is in sub-Saharan Africa. It shares borders with Angola, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and South Africa. It is a relatively young country, having reached its independence in 1990. I am a part of the education sector in the Peace Corps. My site has requested that I teach math and science for grades 6-8. I’m going to share how my time at Loyola motivated me to pursue the Peace Corps.
During my freshman year, I decided to take a philosophy class with Dr. Leder. This class presented a service-learning opportunity that I felt drawn to. Initially I was intimidated because the service required us to visit a maximum security prison. Very quickly, I was able to see how inviting the inmates were. We had a mutual understanding that we would be learning from each other throughout the semester. Later in my college career, I read a book titled, “Tattoos on the Heart,” by Father Greg Boyle. In his book, Fr. Boyle talks about going to the margins of society to serve others. This continues to resonate with me as I reflect on this service experience from time to time.
In addition to going to the correctional facility, I tutored at an elementary and a high school, and I became a companion of a resident at a retirement community. Some of these were in tandem with a class, in which case, the opportunities were conveniently presented to me. Other projects were organized by CCSJ (Community Center for Service and Justice). For those that were organized by CCSJ, I had to be more motivated to seek opportunities that would be a good fit for me. My first service-learning experience ignited my passion for serving others. I knew this was something I wanted to continue after college.
My experiences in the classroom also contributed to my choice to join the Peace Corps. I took several courses that expanded my knowledge and understanding of others. Many of my psychology courses, including but not limited to, Social Psychology and Multicultural Psychology, challenged me to understand people of various identities—especially ones that differ from my own. These courses taught me ways to honor and celebrate our differences. They played a key role in developing my curiosity for other cultures. I love psychology because it unites people and simultaneously helps us to understand the ways we are different. I look forward to using my background in psychology to adapt my teaching methods to help my learners absorb information and perform well in the classroom.
It wasn’t until my junior year that I learned about the Peace Corps. After I returned from study abroad, my mom mentioned that she thought I would be suitable for the Peace Corps. Little did she know how much I would fall in love with the idea of living abroad and serving others. I saw the Peace Corps as a way to join a project much larger than myself.
I have always felt that I was meant to be of service to others. I want to emphasize that it’s much greater than helping. To me, helping seems less sustainable. Additionally, I think it caries the idea that the goals one is trying to achieve were created by external powers. Instead, I want to collaborate with people to assist them in reaching goals they set for themselves. It is important to remember that success looks different for everyone. I must recognize that some Western measures of success are not relevant to my host village, or even the country at large. Similarly, some measures of success that exist here are not relevant to Western civilizations.
Serving others in a new country requires learning about their resources, needs, and how to bridge the gap between where they are and where they want to be. The Peace Corps stresses collaboration with host-country nationals because it is the most sustainable. As volunteers, we are successful when the success we help create is sustained after we leave our sites.
Finally, I will leave you with a quote that has stuck with me for a few years now. One of my service coordinators introduced it to me. I try to focus my service on the basis of this quote. Lilla Watson once said, “If you have come to help me then you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”