Alumni in the Peace Corps: Building Cultural Bridges in Nicaragua
After graduating from Gordon, several alumni are currently opting for an unconventional post-graduate experience by serving in the Peace Corps, from China to Moldova. In the category of colleges with under 5,000 students, Gordon College ranks among schools with the most alumni volunteers. The Bell is currently highlighting some of their stories of service around the globe.
While studying at Gordon, Anna Jonker ’13 was met with a life-changing opportunity that began when she met a Peace Corps representative at a career fair and received a nudge of encouragement from Dr. Dorothy Boorse (biology). Soon after, she packed her bags and moved to Nicaragua.
Anna’s two-year Peace Corps placement in community health education work began with an ample amount of nervous energy and eagerness to contribute. And though she learned to love the community in which she was serving, the experience came with its share of highs and lows. “As with most humanitarian aid work,” she says, “a very clear sign of progress is hard. There were days I felt like I was helping tons in my efforts to increase community health education, and other days when I saw no evidence of change.”
But her work in Nicaragua taught her a great deal about life in a developing country. She says that living in a community that experiences real poverty expanded her understanding of how the culture functions. “Two of the Peace Corps’ three goals,” Anna says, “are to build cultural bridges to, in effect, bring more understanding and eventually peace between the host country and the U.S. …I do feel like I have been a bridge for cultural understanding and peace.”
Anna has returned to the U.S. and is now building on her biology background as she pursues a Master of Science in Nursing at Johns Hopkins University. She left Nicaragua with a new mindset on Christian service, and what it means to sacrifice for the ones around us. True service, she believes, means looking for the “widow and the orphan in our midst.”
“As a Peace Corps volunteer,” Anna shares, “I found my service as an excellent way to serve the least—by providing health education, a listening ear or even just painting the toenails of a mother of five in the maternity home, who only owned a pair of flip-flops and walked in the dust daily.”
“Live intentionally where you are,” she encourages. Anna’s experience in Nicaragua taught her how to embrace cultural differences, while helping to grow and advance a community in need. It also taught her about a new pace of life. “My family and friends will tell you I came back more relaxed,” she says. “I learned how to descansar and what it means to be tranquillo. I learned in Nicaragua that life is not a rat-race.”
Read about Ryan Wilkens ’15 in Costa Rica >
Read about Libbi Wilson ’15 in China >
Read about Alex Bostian ’16 in Moldova >
Read about Emma Barclay ’16 in Madagascar >
Read about Roland Griggs ’15 in Ghana >
By Megan Harvey ’19, communication arts