|Spring/Summer 2006||Volume 21, Number 2||Findings Magazine|
In addition to being a graduate student here at Michigan, you’re also a campus recruiter for the Peace Corps. What’s that involve?
I spend my time going to different interest groups, classes, and mass meetings, talking about the general application process as well as my own experience. I also am a part of the screening process.
How did you first get interested in international work?
When I was 14, my guidance counselor asked me if I had any plans for the summer. I told her I didn’t, and she handed me an application for AFS, a study- abroad program. I filled out an application, and several months later, I was informed that I had been accepted and would be spending my summer in Finland. When my host family picked me up at the airport, they warned me that I was going to be the first black person that their small town of 7,000 people, Loimaa, had ever seen. Everyone was tall, blonde, blue-eyed. I had never seen anything like this, especially coming from New York. To make matters worse, the town was known for having a large contingency of youth engaged in Nazi and skinhead work, which I didn’t find out until the drive up to my home. I was so scared, because I had never experienced this element before. My host family was very nice and tried to help me get acclimated. We used to go on walks. The first time we went, everyone came running out, looking at me and trying to figure me out.
It turned out to be the best experience of my entire life. Sixteen years later, the folks in the community still talk about my time with them and e-mail me, asking me when I will come back because I had such an impact on their community. This is when I discovered that I enjoyed the international experience.
You’ve served twice in the Peace Corps?
My first stint with the Peace Corps was in Cameroon. I was a public health volunteer working in the equatorial rainforest with the Pygmy population. Later, I was in the third group of Peace Corps volunteers to go to South Africa. During that assignment, I was actually an educational and community-resource volunteer.
What’s your most striking memory from your time in the Peace Corps?
In Cameroon I was working on building a local health clinic. Several months after returning to the States, I got a letter from the community with a picture of a baby and a copy of a birth certificate. It was really weird, because it came from a really close friend of mine. As I read through the letter and the birth certificate, I realized my name was on the birth certificate. This young child was born to my close friend’s sister, and in the tradition of this community the sister’s brother names the young child. This was one of the first children born at the clinic, and in honor of my work there, they named the baby after me.
Hannah Madoff, a student in the University of Michigan Residential College, contributed to this piece.
Photo by Peter Smith
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Name: Rohan Jeremiah