Graduates volunteer many miles away

Graduates volunteer many miles away

Milana Ballard

Sophomore Chloe Bovier reads information sheets about the Peace Corps. Bovier said she has strong interests in applying to the Corps following college graduation.

Milana Ballard, Features Editor

In 2012, after working a double shift at a restaurant, Taylor Morsillo, a 2010 Pitt-Johnstown graduate, went home to find a large envelope marked with the Peace Corps logo.

Morsillo said, once she saw the envelope, she knew her life was about to change. She was invited to serve with the Peace Corps in Mozambique in Africa.

Two months later, Morsillo boarded a plane and was on her way to Mozambique, located on Africa’s southeastern coast with a population of approximately 26 million. It is an estimated 310,000 square miles (nearly twice California’s size) next to the Indian Ocean.

She still lives there.

She first resided in a house made of cement and reed walls with a tin roof. There also was a fence around her home, but she rarely kept it shut, allowing neighbors to visit.

There, Morsillo said she spent her time working on projects to teach AIDS/HIV prevention techniques.

Along with her volunteer work, Morsillo said she learned about the area’s culture.

There was a lot of dancing in Mozambique.

“Even if you didn’t like to dance, you’d be encouraged to join in on the fun. Individuals also take great pride in their appearance here (in Mozambique).”

Morsillo said she has faced a few challenges.

For one thing, volunteers often are put in a foreign country without having previous knowledge on its language, culture and politics.

“Not knowing the language was the biggest frustration, but the experience here, for me at first, was filled with deep appreciation combined with curiosity about this new country,” said Morsillo.

Morsillo said during the original three-month training period, the Peace Corps sets each volunteer up with a host family who helped her develop skills and knowledge.

During the training period, volunteers also are instructed on safety precautions and what to do if an issue arises.

Morsillo is not alone in dealing with safety concerns as a volunteer, but Peace Corps staff does what they can to help resolve the problems, according to Corps volunteers.

“I’m not going to lie. I have had a few safety incidents here, yes, but I’ve reported them all to Peace Corps and feel that I’ve been supported and helped through any issue that I’ve had here,” said Morsillo.

Kim Seigh, a 1985 Pitt-Johnstown graduate, served as a volunteer in Uganda from 1992 to 1994.

After Seigh had been serving for over a year, she, along with fellow volunteers, took a short vacation to Nairobi, Kenya.  While there, they visited a movie theater. On their way back, locals were shouting at them.

Seigh said that was one of the few times she was slightly concerned for her safety. She recommended using caution and not going out alone late at night.

“If you just use good common sense, you’ll be safe,” said Seigh.

Another difficulty Seigh faced was getting sick.

“I had malaria once, but Peace Corps made sure I was taken care of immediately. They got me to the health center where I was started on treatment quickly. As soon as it began, I felt immediate relief.”

Even with these two instances, Seigh said she experienced more good than bad.

“When I was going to Uganda for the first time, my plane landed in Nairobi. The smell, I loved the smell. It was a real earthy kind of scent that I can’t even explain.”

In Uganda, Seigh said she learned cultural similarities, along with some differences.

The Ugandan people, just like Americans, find a handshake important, as well as taking pride in their appearance.

“If someone said, ‘you look fat today,’ it is supposed to be taken as a compliment meaning you look healthy. Here in the U.S., if someone said that, many people would obviously take it as an insult,” said Seigh.

“I think part of Peace Corps is to build relationships between the United States and other countries. It’s almost like a friendship. The goal is to help them.”

Morsillo and Seigh were members of a panel of Peace Corps volunteers who spoke to seven community members March 23 in Blackington to tell about their experiences in the Corps.

Lori Frola, a Pitt-Oakland graduate and panel member, said she also believes that the relationships built with the locals through the Peace Corps are important.

Frola said she was one of the only native English speakers in Mongolia who got to work with students and felt she was a great part of their English language knowledge.

Serving in the Peace Corps also opens other education opportunities for its volunteers. There are several master’s degree programs available.

Volunteers can apply to the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, the Graduate School of Public Health or the Coverdell Fellows program.

Some of the programs are worked on through one’s time serving, while other programs are done after.

To become a competitive applicant to the Peace Corps, Frola recommends putting strong focus on one’s resume.

“Do your research, tailor your resume to show how you fit into one of the six sectors Peace Corps offer. Normally, a three-page resume is not the best, but, in this case, it can really make you stand apart from other applicants,” said Frola.

“Be as specific as possible when it comes to all of your experience.”

The only requirements for applying are that the applicant must be of the age of 18 and must be a U.S. citizen. Although it is not necessary, having a bachelor’s degree is helpful.

According to Emily Webb, a Peace Corps public affairs representative, since 1961 when the Peace Corps began, 1,861 University of Pittsburgh graduates have served for the organization their after graduation.