Category Archives: Peace Corps Masters International

PCMI Student Peter Garrison in Ethiopia

PCMI Student Peter Garrison in Ethiopia

Grad School or Peace Corps? Why not do both?

A student may combine a degree in any one of our five M.A. programs — Creative Nonfiction, English Education, Literature, Rhetoric and Composition, or TEFL/TESL — with the Peace Corps Masters International (PCMI) degree at Colorado State University. Colorado State University is one of the few English Departments in the country to offer this unique program.

At a recent presentation, Professor Ellen Brinks, Peace Corps Master’s International program liaison for the English department, and Aaron Carlile, an MA Literature student who just returned from his Peace Corp assignment in China, talked about the PCMI program at CSU to a group of interested students. Students who attended the session had various reasons for coming: being super excited that such a program existed, wanting to do both the Peace Corp and complete a Master’s degree at the same time, interest in being part of the human community, desire to do meaningful work, and even coming because their advisor had recommended it.

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Professor Ellen Brinks and PCMI (MA Literature) student Aaron Carlile

Professor Brinks summarized some of the benefits of the program this way:

  • You get to be in the Peace Corps while also doing academic work and completing an MA, melding the two together
  • Various financial perks — such as round trip travel, a stipend, medical and dental, transition funds, deferral of student loans,
  • Learning a new language, cultural immersion
  • Access to federal jobs upon return and help with job searches, which opens up a range of careers that might not be possible without this particular experience

Professor Brinks summed it up by saying that that while it’s inherently rewarding to be in the Peace Corps all by itself, there’s a wonderful compatibility between academic work and Peace Corps work. Through the PCMI students experience “a fusion of scholarly and service work … deeply rooted in community.”

Aaron Carlile echoed Ellen’s summary, explaining that PCMI students take the abstracts of learning and apply them in a way that’s meaningful and personally gratifying, while also taking part in international development and cultural exchange. His first three months he lived with a host family, went through language and cultural immersion, and learned to speak Chinese before starting his assignment. He then taught English at a college, and also started a literary club. He talked about how his initial plan was to go to Eastern Europe, that there was a particular literary movement he wanted to study and write about, but when he was placed in China it shifted his whole perspective, in the best possible way.

Aaron shared some slides about where in the world Peace Corps volunteers work and what sorts of assignments they receive.

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volunteers work in

Aaron summed up his own experience with the PCMI this way: He was initially completely out of his element, but had a lot of support and found his way. He landed on his feet and gained a lot of confidence from the experience.

To learn more, check out our PCMI page, where you can find out more about the specific of the program and what other students have to say about their experiences with it.

Update: Sadly, in 2016 the Peace Corps made the difficult decision to phase out the Master’s International program and focus on other strategic partnership opportunities. Read more here: https://www.peacecorps.gov/volunteer/university-programs/masters-international/

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Five CSU graduate students are going to central China this summer to teach English as a second language at Xi’an Jiaotong University. For four weeks, they will teach six hours a day five days a week. Their primary duty will be teaching language skills to Chinese college students, including reading, writing and verbal communication in English. The program flyer describes the school and its location this way:

Xi’an Jiaotong University (XJTU), one of the country’s oldest higher education institutions, is a national key university under the direct jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education. Currently, XJTU has 26 schools offering undergraduate and postgraduate programs in science, engineering, medicine, economics, management, art, law and education, with an enrollment of about 30,000 full-time students, including over 14,697 masters and doctoral candidates.

Xi’an is located in the central China. As a city with over 3000 years of history, Xi’an is proud of its historic sites and relics including the Terracotta Warriors of the Qin Emperor, one of the eight wonders of the world, the City Wall, the Bell Tower and the Big Wild Goose Pagoda.

In the weeks before they go, we’ll be profiling some of these students on the blog as part of our Student Success Stories series, and a few of them have agreed to send us updates and pictures while they are there. In this profile, we’d like to introduce you to Kathleen Hamel.

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Kathleen and her mom, Spring Break 2015

 

Kathleen Hamel
MA English: Teaching English as a Second/Foreign Language (TEFL/TESL)
1st year

Tell us a bit about yourself.
I grew up in Ohio, where I did my undergrad at The Ohio State University and received my BA in International Studies. Through my program there, I began volunteering as an ESL teacher upon returning home from a study abroad trip to Brazil I took through OSU. From this volunteering experience, I knew that this was the career path for me!

What brought you to CSU?
Since I want to serve in the Peace Corps, I chose CSU so that I could participate in the Peace Corp’s Master’s International program, which is when student’s combine their Master’s degree with their Peace Corps service abroad. In addition to this, I fell in love with Colorado on a previous backpacking trip and wanted to be exposed to more outdoor experiences.

Kathleen on the far left

Last summer, Kathleen was a water-white rafting guide, “an experience that I will never forget!” That’s her on the far left, in the green shirt with the braid.

Favorite English class? Favorite English teacher? Favorite assignment or project?
My favorite English class that I’ve taken at CSU, hands down, is my Practicum course, where my classmates and I “practice” our ESL teaching skills to a class filled with volunteer students. Dr. Tatiana Nekrasova-Beker teaches the course and truly facilitates a comforting and conducive environment for us “Teachers-in-Training.”


Why is it important to study English, the Humanities?
I think it’s important to study English and the Humanities because it allows us to see beyond our own culture, which ultimately leads to a more accepting world view.


How did you find out about the opportunity to teach English in China over the summer? Why did you apply?
I first heard about this opportunity to teach in China from my (now-retired) professor, Dr. Flahive. He highly recommended the people who work for this organization, and as he is a long-time professional in the field, I trusted that input. I decided to apply to the program, so that I can continue my EFL/ESL training, since I have never taught EFL abroad before. I expect that I will continue to learn more ways in which student’s learn and in what ways I can be a better facilitator for them learning a language. It’s imperative as a teacher to be able to ensure that students are learning in their most efficient manor, and to me, various types of experiences enables one to perfect those skills.

What do you expect it to be like?
Since I have never lived in a city so big before, I anticipate that will be the biggest adjustment I’ll have to make, besides the language of course. And as this is considered to be a “mid-sized” city for China, I cannot imagine what Shanghai will be like! I’m excited to be able to see it first-hand.

When do you leave? How long will you be gone?
I will leave at the end of June and will be back by the end of July. So the program itself is about a month long.

What sort of preparation have you had to do? What do you think you’ll miss most while you are gone?
I haven’t had much opportunity to prepare since the semester has been winding down and I’ve been busy focusing all of my effort on ensuring that I finish strong. However, as soon as the school year finishes, I hope to learn as much as I can about the Chinese language, watch documentaries about the region I will be teaching and reaching out to fellow classmates who are familiar with the area.

I think that I’ll most likely miss the food. From my past experience traveling and living abroad, there’s just no food like the food that you grew up on and comforts you.


What advice do you have for current students?

My advice to current students is to put yourself out there to experiences that you might be hesitant to try. More likely times than not, you’ll be enjoying yourself, and if not, life is about learning experiences, and it’s just another one that you have under your belt.

What do you want to say to prospective students about the CSU English department?

To prospective students, I would say that the CSU English department is a close-knit community and there is always someone who is extremely helpful in helping you in the ways that you need. I never quite had this experience as an undergrad since I went so such a large university, so it’s something that I’ve appreciated greatly in my time here.


What are you looking forward to most about moving back into a remodeled Eddy Hall?
The thing I’m looking forward to the most about moving back into Eddy is to see it for the first time ever! When I moved to Colorado, Eddy was already under renovations, so I’ve never actually been in the building!

Where will we find you in five years?
In five years, I anticipate that I will be living and working abroad as an EFL teacher. Hopefully in a place that I’ve never been to before!

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Kimberly Townsend
M.A. English: Literature, Peace Corps Masters International (PCMI), Fall 2013

Kimberly Townsend in Tirana, Albania's capital

Kimberly Townsend in Tirana, Albania’s capital

How did your major prepare you for the job, the life you have now?

Currently, I work as a Management Support Assistant in the Office of Curatorial Affairs (OCA) at the Smithsonian’s National Museum for African American History and Culture (opening in 2016). In this role, I act as the curatorial staff’s Procurement Official writing simplified acquisitions for museum collections, independent contractors, various services, and Blanket Purchase Agreements (BPAs) in compliance with federal purchasing regulations. As one would imagine, my degree in Literature and experiences in technical writing very much prepared me for this job.

 


My degree has also prepared me well for life. Having a strong base in communication, both written and oral, has helped me in every aspect of my career and life. Too many times I think people forget how much English is based on the ability to communicate. Creating messages; analyzing the messages and how they may, or may not, be received; how different people are affected by different messaging are all things that I’ve learned through Literature.


 

What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishments (both personally and professionally)? How did your experience in the English Department help you with these achievements?

Completing Peace Corps has been my greatest accomplishment personally. During my time as a Peace Corps Masters International (PCMI) student (Albania 2011-2013), my advisors and professors were great in helping me develop my final project and working with me to figure out how best to apply my (and future PCMI students) experience to fulfill program requirements.

I like to think I haven’t reached my greatest accomplishment professionally, yet. My goal is to use the knowledge, skills, and experiences I’ve gained through Peace Corps and my education to continue to work in international project planning and development. I would very much like to work with Peace Corps again, ideally to improve their PCMI and Coverdell Fellows programs.

 


What did you like about the English program? Why did you choose to study here?

I was very impressed with the diversity of courses, internships, and study abroad opportunities offered by the English program. Being a PCMI student allowed me to gain experiences in international project planning and development and obtain real-life skills that can’t be taught in the classroom. I appreciate that CSU, and the English department, value that type of education and continue to offer students the opportunity to expand their learning environment and capabilities.


 

Do you have a favorite or funny story from your time with the English Department?

I remember being very stressed one semester during finals (like every other grad student) and emailing my mom at 2AM saying, “MOM! I need help ASAP!” with an attachment for one of my papers. My mom, of course, knew that meant I needed an extra pair of eyes editing, but what I didn’t realize until the next morning was that I had sent the email to my professor (with no attachment), so he probably thought I was crazy. Luckily, he never mentioned it.

 

Was there a specific class, professor, advisor, or fellow student who made an impression on you, helped you, or inspired you when you were at CSU in the English Department? Do you still keep in contact with your classmates or professors?

Yes, my project advisor and professor, Ellen Brinks. She challenged me in such an amazing way, probably without even realizing it. Her perspective on life and the world is incredible. I started to pick up on it during a colonial and postcolonial survey class I took with her during my first year. The books she choose and the questions she posed to the class, and her insights into the reading forced me (and I would imagine everyone in the class) to think about life and humanity in a different way. I remember being in that class, talking about Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, hearing her insights, and being provoked, for the first time, to really think about philosophical questions regarding how the interactions we all share effect how we perceive the world, others, and ourselves.

On top of that, Ellen is incredibly supportive. During my Peace Corps service, she worked with me (which wasn’t easy to do while I was half-way across the world) without hesitation or frustration. Even now, almost two years after I’ve graduated, Ellen continues to be support me in pursuing my goals. She is a professor who genuinely wants her students to succeed and who works to help them succeed in any way she can. No amount of praise would do her justice.

 


What would you like to tell prospective CSU English Department students?

I would tell prospective CSU English Department students to take advantage of the wide array of opportunities the English Department, and CSU as a whole, offers students. Your degree, and experience, is what you make of it!

 

What advice do you have for current CSU English Department students?

Don’t limit yourself to ‘typical’ English degree careers! When looking for a job after graduation, know that advanced writing skills, the ability to perform and analyze in-depth research, and high level critical thinking skills are highly sought by employers in every career field.


 

What was the last piece of writing you read or wrote? OR, What are you currently reading, writing? OR, You have an hour to spend in a bookstore. What section do you make a beeline to?

Right now, I’m reading My Sallinger Year by Joanna Rakoff.  Usually in a bookstore I will beeline it to Historical Fiction – that’s my favorite.

 

What are your hobbies or special interests, what do you enjoy doing with your free time?

I try to spend as much of my free time as I can outside. I really enjoy hiking and skiing; although, since I’ve been in DC, I’ve been spending more time inside exploring museums.

 

How did you learn about this exciting opportunity (the Peace Corps Masters International)?

I learned about Peace Corps after taking a short trip to Ecuador with the Judith Lombeida Medical Foundation (JLMF), a Colorado based nonprofit. JLMF was providing general healthcare to underserved communities in Ecuador and while working there, I met three Peace Corps volunteers. During that time, I got to see where the volunteers were living, the work they were doing, and talk with them about their experiences. I knew before leaving Ecuador, Peace Corps was what I wanted to do. So, I started doing research online about PCMI programs and found CSU’s program.

 

What was your favorite experience in the Peace Corps?

My favorite experience from Peace Corps was getting to learn and live within a new culture. It’s an amazing experience because you not only get to learn a new language, but you also get to learn about different ways of life, different beliefs, different values, and so much more.

Kimberly with her Albanian host grandmother. Kimberly lived with their family for 10 weeks during pre service training.

Kimberly with her Albanian host grandmother. Kimberly lived with their family for 10 weeks during pre service training.

How did this experience impact your perspective, influence your goals?

Peace Corps definitely changed my perspective and influenced my goals. I feel like now, after Peace Corps, I’m much more open-minded and accepting of different cultures and beliefs. The whole world doesn’t live like the US – we all have to learn to respect that.

My goal now is to use the knowledge, skills, and experiences I’ve gained through Peace Corps and my education to continue to work in international project planning and development. I would very much like to work with Peace Corps again, ideally to improve their PCMI and Coverdell Fellows programs.

Kimberly's host sister (Leda, 16), Kimberly, Kimberly's mom, and her host mom (Arta) when Kimberly's parents came to visit her in Albania

Kimberly’s host sister (Leda, 16), Kimberly, Kimberly’s mom, and her host mom (Arta) when Kimberly’s parents came to visit her in Albania

Do you have any advice for future English majors interested in the Peace Corps?

Do it! It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but also the best!

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English Department Communications Intern Marina Miller recently interviewed Professor Ellen Brinks about the Peace Corps Masters International program here in the English department at CSU and her upcoming Study Abroad trip to Zambia.

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Katrina and her daughter Esther outside their small arts and crafts shop

You’re an advocate for the Peace Corps, how did that come about? If you were in the Peace Corps yourself, where did you go? What did you get out of it? 

I never was a Peace Corps volunteer, but I’ve met a number of Peace Corps volunteers and have learned about what a powerfully formative experience it had on their lives. Without wanting to overly simplify things, as far as international development programs go, the Peace Corps is one of the most ethical, and I have seen how the immersion and collaborative work within communities in developing countries gives volunteers both a sense of the bigger picture – a wider, global perspective – as well as a more nuanced, complex, and empathic understanding of cultural difference.

We have a Peace Corps Masters International program here in the English department at CSU, where a graduate student earns an MA with academic coursework and combines that with the standard 27-month, hands-on Peace Corps assignment. Our PCMI graduate students have had all kinds of opportunities opened to them as result of their PCMI degrees. One recent returnee has worked with the US Park Service on global climate change initiatives and the Smithsonian Museum of African-American History, in the acquisitions department. What cool jobs! So it’s absolutely not at all a stretch to advocate for this program; I love talking about it.

[Professor Brinks is the English department liaison for the Peace Corps Masters International program here at CSU. There are four departments that participate in the program at CSU, and English is one of them. Ellen advises interested English majors and graduate students on the program.]

Zambia Info Session Flyer

What got you interested in Zambia? What are some of the activities that you will be doing?

I got interested in Zambia by traveling there and working with schoolchildren on their reading skills. Kids there are not native English speakers, but English is the language of the school classrooms and curriculum, the language of the Zambian government, and it’s the ticket to greater economic opportunities as they mature. On the summer education abroad program I’ll be leading this coming May (so soon!), students will be working collaboratively in the community of Livingstone, Zambia, on community education and community health projects. They’ll chose the projects that they want to participate in, and they’ll work 8 hours a day, five days a week (with weekends off). Some will be working with teachers, some will be working teaching and tutoring students and adult learners, some will be helping construct classrooms, some will be teaching sports, some will be assisting in health clinics and doing home-health care, some will be teaching nutrition and HIV education. There are some other projects I’ve not mentioned, but this gives you a good idea of the diversity of initiatives the students will be a part of.

How many students will be with you? How did they get chosen for such an exciting trip?

Based on application numbers, I think we’ll have about 15-20 students traveling. Anyone can go who has a desire to go (and a GPA of 2.5 or higher). The program is run through the Education Abroad Office here at CSU, and they have a great support team there to help with the application process and with scholarship information.

Are there any special requirements that the students needed to complete to be eligible? For example, did they need special immunizations or medical records?

Besides the 2.5 GPA and getting all the application materials completed by February 15, the students will need to get a US passport and the required immunizations for travelling to Zambia (there are a few!). All the other costs (except personal spending money) are included in the cost of the program – airfare, all in-country meals and lodging and transportation, program costs, and weekend excursions.

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Hippo family at Chobe National Park, Botswana (Ellen says, “we’ll go here on the Zambia summer trip!”)

What do you hope students get from the trip?

So many things! I hope that students feel empowered by the challenges of a trip like this – it’s not a tourist trip to Africa – and recognize how skilled and talented they are; I hope in their work with Zambians, they come to see them as co-partners, as aspiring citizens of country with great human resources, and not as needy recipients of Western aid; I hope they develop an appreciation for the beauty and cultural richness of Zambia; I hope they make new friends, become lifelong travelers, and become engaged, global citizens for life.

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Animals at the watering hole in Etosha National Park, Namibia

While there, will you have an opportunity to see some of the beautiful sights that Zambia has to offer or will it be all work?

Yes, we’ve definitely designed the program so that students have time to explore some of the natural and cultural wonders of the area! There are many exceptional sites in this corner of the world. First and foremost, right next to the town of Livingstone, Zambia, are the world-famous Victoria Falls, the world’s largest waterfall and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Zambezi River falls into a rift that stretches more than a mile, and there’s an amazing National Park with lots of trails. If we’re lucky and there’s a full moon, we can visit the Park at night and see “lunar rainbows,” a rainbow effect created by the moonlight on the mist rising from the falls – it’s beautiful and eerie. Livingstone is also an adventure hub, and students can do whitewater rafting on the Zambezi, bungee jumping into the chasm, parasailing, and lots more.

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Deadvleih petrified area, Namibia

We’ll also be traveling for one weekend to Chobe National Park in the neighboring country of Botswana. It’s only about 2 hours away, and we’ll be on a “camping safari” there: spending the nights in tents and touring the park/Chobe River by day to see wildlife. Chobe is one of the top three wildlife preserves in the whole continent of Africa, and students will see A LOT of animals there: hippos, crocs, zebra, elephants, giraffes, lions, leopards (if lucky), many species of antelope and gazelle, warthog, jackal, I could go on. It’s all right there, and students will be able to see these animals up close and take many photos.

There are some other great outings possible: to local food and crafts markets; to some local restaurants for traditional Zambian food; to a traditional village away from the town; to a big cat rehab sanctuary.

Ellen at the lion sanctuary (for orphaned and injured lions) in Livingstone, Zambia

Ellen at the lion sanctuary (for orphaned and injured lions) in Livingstone, Zambia

What is your favorite place you’ve traveled to thus far?

I once counted up how many countries I’d traveled to (it came to 42), and many of them are amazing and beautiful places. For me, though, my favorite places are the ones where I feel at home, as if I could live there for a long period of time and be happy because the culture is warm and inviting and stimulating. There are three places that come to mind: Greece; the Lake District in England; and Livingstone, Zambia.

Is there anything else you would like us to mention?

Students should feel free to contact me for information about the Zambia program or our Peace Corps Masters International (PCMI) program: Ellen.Brinks@Colostate.edu

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