Jessica Howard '09 and Linnea Zielinski '09
July 10, 2009
Jessica L. Howard and Linnea V. Zielinski are two members of the recently graduated Class of 2009 heading abroad for service in the Peace Corps. Their two-year assignments will be spent in Kazakhstan and Ukraine, respectively, on trips that they look forward to as part of their ongoing education.
Howard begins her two-year term in Kazakhstan in August, performing a number of duties — grant-writing, tutoring her colleagues in English and assessing organizational needs — with the Peace Corps' Organizational and Community Assistance Program, which promotes long-term infrastructure development and sustainable growth in the country.
"I've wanted to join the Peace Corps since sixth grade, when a returned volunteer came and spoke on a career day at my school," she says. "I had visions of traveling, learning new languages and basically saving the world. Needless to say, the world looks very different to me now, and I recognize that it is in many ways more complicated than I can understand; yet I still feel drawn to the Peace Corps and its mission of cultural exchange. I will be traveling in remote territories — after all, Kazakhstan is one of the least-populated countries on earth — as well as studying Russian and Kazakh, but I know now that my responsibility isn't to ‘save the world' as much as to be a student of the world."
Howard's undergraduate experiences prepared her well for her Peace Corps role. While at DePauw, she spent a semester abroad in Cairo, an opportunity she says changed her perspective of what it means to be American. The following summer, Howard worked as an intern with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency in Jerusalem, through connections with Karen Koning AbuZayd, the agency's commissioner-general and 1963 DePauw graduate, an experience which later became the basis of her senior Honor Scholar thesis.
"Many of my professors at DePauw have been very supportive of my plans, but just as importantly, encouraged me to think critically about my goals, the Peace Corps' goals and the very concept of ‘development.' Even as I begin to pack for Kazakhstan, I haven't forgotten [Assistant Professor of Anthropology] Mona Bhan's calls to ‘reframe the problem' in Anthropology of Development, [Assistant Professor of Political Science] Smita Rahman's lecture on ‘traveling as a political act' in Muslim Political Thought, or [Associate Professor of Classical Studies] Pedar Foss's teaching of The Odyssey in my first-year seminar, Ancient Journeys. Many DePauw faculty and staff members have helped me understand that the Peace Corps is not only consistent with a liberal arts education, but also a future in education, international affairs, law, academia or whatever direction I decide to take."
Zielinski was originally assigned to Western Africa until what she describes as a "gauntlet of medical exams" discovered an enzyme deficiency, preventing her from taking the malaria medication necessary to serve in the region. She was offered a choice between Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and she opted for the former because of her academic interests. "Either region sparked interest for me," she explains. "The only deciding factor was that, as a literature major, I may eventually decide to attend graduate school for comparative literature. Picking up either Russian or Ukrainian will help me incorporate my interest in Russian authors into my literature studies."
Zielinski has been studying Ukrainian since DePauw's May commencement and just recently finished a TEFL course to prepare her for her teaching assignment in a Ukrainian secondary school.
"It's flattering and daunting to know that I'll be considered an expert in my classroom," Zielinksi says. "The thing I may be most excited about is being part of the learning process in my classroom. My students and I will be going through the same process in two different languages. Hopefully, a unique environment can be formed in my classroom in which it's recognized that the teaching and learning is going both ways."
Unlike Howard, Zielinski says that her decision to join the Peace Corps is the result a recent and unlikely revelation.
"I had never considered taking part in a program like the Peace Corps until the fall of my junior year," Zielinski says. "During that semester, I was in New York doing fashion internships with Glamour magazine and Self magazine through the New York Arts Program. Working at Glamour magazine was my dream job for years, but what eventually bothered me enough to start questioning my plans for the future was the disparity between the environment in which I worked every day and the conditions on the street I saw walking to and from work. I adore fashion, but it came to the point where I felt that, because of my inability to reconcile this chasm I was seeing in the city, I needed to do something else before I went into it as a career.
"Toward the end of the semester, all the fashion interns at Glamour had the opportunity to work Glamour's Women of the Year event where the magazine recognizes outstanding women and their impact on society. Victoria Hale, CEO of the Institute of OneWorld Health, gave a speech that night in which she said to the girls' school students who were invited to attend, ‘You know you're going to live for 100 years, don't you? What are you going to do with that?' It sounds cliché, but that solidified for me that there was no reason to pass on the opportunity to volunteer my time to an organization like the Peace Corps. After all, when you have that much time, what's 27 months?"
Upon completion of their terms abroad, Howard and Zielinski will join a prestigious group of Peace Corps alumni that includes United States Senator Christopher Dodd; Reed Hastings, founder and CEO of Netflix; and Priscilla Wrubel, founder of The Nature Company.
Zielinski plans to blog her time in Ukraine. Follow her experiences at linneasadventures.wordpress.com.