by Patricia Bloom
Many people travel the globe but never take the time to visit Lesotho or Cameroon. School of International Affairs (SIA) students Brianna Buehler ‘11 and Trevor Ammons '12 made Lesotho and Cameroon their respective homes for two years as Peace Corps volunteers.
Peace Corps assignments are made based on a volunteer's experience and the host country's needs. “I was really excited to find out I would be in Lesotho because it was unlike anywhere I had previously been,” said Buehler, who had previously studied psychology, human development, and family studies at Penn State. In the Peace Corps, Buehler worked with preschool teachers helping to set up their early childhood development programs throughout Lesotho. Partnering with the Ministry of Education Department's Director of Preschool Programs, Buehler was responsible for visiting both local and rural preschool programs and ensuring the student programs were successful and on track.
Ammons, a graduate of the University of Northern Colorado, was stationed in Cameroon as a small enterprise development volunteer. “I worked at a local microcredit institution where I taught business classes that incorporated Microsoft Office Suite. The best part of my job was the cultural exchange between the students and me,” Ammons said. “Peace Corps programs are often shaped by the region's culture. In this case, the class was a group of 16 to 26 year-old students interested in learning about business. We would discuss business philosophy as used in the United States and how these concepts could fit into their lives.”
A Peace Corps volunteer will often have other community projects in addition to his or her main objective. As Lesotho has the third highest HIV component in the world, one of Buehler's projects was creating effective ways to teach young people about HIV and AIDs. “I helped plan Children's Health Days. On those days, parents would bring their children for entertainment and fun. Each event had face painting, puppets and games, but also gave attendees access to healthcare services including dentists, nurses, and other services as well as HIV testing,” Beuhler said.
Both Ammons and Buehler credit the Peace Corps with inspiring them to attend the School of International Affairs. Beuhler finds herself “inspired” to learn more about how the United States engages with other countries. She appreciates the SIA program's unique flexibility that has allowed her to pursue by working with other Penn State departments. Last year, Buehler connected with the nationally ranked Penn State College of Engineering
on the Mashavu
telemedicine project in Kenya. “The bioengineers had designed software that would take basic patient vitals. The information would go directly into a laptop, which then sends the information to a doctor,” she said. “I was in charge of the feedback and the focus groups.”
Unique SIA program experiences such as the Mashavu TeleMedicine project were one of the main reasons Ammons chose Penn State when selecting a program. While he is just beginning his School of International Affairs experience, he is enjoying getting more involved at Penn State. He would like to intern with a major international sports organization next year for his capstone experience. “I came back to school to receive a better foundation and understanding of other cultures and history. So for now, I'm excited to get these basics down and make the most of this new adventure,” he said.