Thursday, February 21, 2008

Brown Bag Report: Peace Corps in Honduras

Here is a report from Zach Stoddard on yesterday's Brown Bag presentation by Julie Goldenberg.

Julie Goldenberg graduated from UPS in 2002, majoring in IPE with a minor in Spanish. From UPS, she went directly into the Master’s International program, specializing in International Public Service and Development. She attended graduate school at Rutgers for 1 year, then spent 2 years volunteering for the Peace Corps in Honduras, and finished her thesis in 2006. [Editor's note: click here for information about Peace Corps/Grad school programs.] She now works with the Alison Bixby Stone School, which reaches out to Honduran children in urban areas.

Julie mentioned that Peace Corps assignments in South America, Central America, and the Caribbean are extremely popular, and that her knowledge of Spanish helped her earn placement in central and northern Honduras. Her assignment was to aid with municipal development, an important process given that Honduras had recently undergone decentralization. She found the political environment to be drastically different, and that one of her most significant functions was to provide civil education – making citizens aware of the rights that their political system allowed them.

Interestingly, Julie said that one of the most meaningful aspects of her time abroad was to be able to project a liberal viewpoint on American politics to Hondurans. While Peace Corps volunteers are required to take an oath aligning themselves with the US government, she was able to remain liberal minded at the same time. Because many Hondurans were angered and confused about US government action, she found it meaningful to provide an alternative perspective, showing that a large number of Americans don’t necessarily agree with its government’s actions.

Julie also discussed transitional periods upon her arrival in Honduras and her return to the US. One of her challenges while abroad was coming to terms with being an outsider. No matter how much of the culture she absorbed or how well she could speak the language, she found that she was always seen as a foreigner. In her transition back to the US, she was annoyed with the cultural requirements – owning a car and a cell phone, for example. The advice she provided for overcoming transitional challenges was to be mentally prepared and to always keep a positive outlook.

As we have heard from other speakers, Julie stressed the importance of thinking through post-graduation decisions. Even though she went directly into graduate school, she recommended considering work experience or travel before possibly entering into a graduate program.

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