It was late on a Tuesday night in early September. Most students were studying or sleeping, at home or in their dorm rooms. One student, a recent University of Maryland grad and the main attraction of a going-away party, talked to friends and family about why she decided to buy a one-way ticket to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Marie Claire Andrea, 22, from U Street in the District of Columbia, is just one of many Bachelor’s degree holders who decide to shun nine-to-five America for at least a little while and volunteer or work abroad. Andrea has amassed 300 pounds of books to donate to an English-speaking church, which will provide her with a place to stay. She plans to learn Amharic and is deciding whether to earn a living by teaching Ethiopian university students or by helping a friendly entrepreneur conduct research.
If Andrea can serve as an example to recent graduates at large, a degree-holding young adult’s only limit is the sky.
But Andrea took to the sky just two days later.
Jason Burns, 28, a regional recruiter for Peace Corps, said his goodbyes a few years before Andrea, when he was 24. His destination was West Africa.
While in Mali, Burns worked on malaria prevention, HIV/AIDS education, prenatal and postnatal care and nutritional counseling. He stayed for two years and three months, learning the native language, Bambara, and adopting the ethnic name, Seydou, which means ‘one who is happy.’
‘I didn’t want to go as a tourist,’ he said. ‘I wanted to go to help. I qualified to either do English-teaching or public health work. ‘ I got public health.’
Burns, a Morgan State University alumnus, taught high school history in Silver Spring before joining Peace Corps.
He said he realized he needed a change when he found himself frequently lecturing his students about places he had never been to and trying to answer their tough questions on problem-solving in the developing world.
Not long after, he found himself in Mali outlining seven problem-solving solutions in Bambara to the leaders in his assigned community.
‘I proposed practical solutions to the problems they were facing,’ he said, reflecting on his time spent ‘living in a mud hut, picking cotton [and] talking to old ladies about their lives.’
Peace Corps requires a two-year commitment with an additional three months of training and language immersion. It currently employs 7,810 volunteers and trainees in 138 countries, according to its website, peacecorps.org. Ninety-six percent of all volunteers hold at least a Bachelor’s degree, Burns said.
Other graduates, such as Ahnna Smith, the recruitment director for Teach for America, the national organization that emphasizes education in low-income communities, decide to stay on the ground after graduation.
Smith was a government and politics major at the University of Maryland and planned to go to law school; she had even taken the LSAT. But upon graduating in December 2003, she joined Teach for America instead.
Teach for America carries a two-year commitment after graduation. It currently employs 4,400 teachers in 25 urban and rural regions, impacting 375,000 students annually, according to its website, teachforamerica.org. It was founded in 1990 by Wendy Kopp, who proposed the program in her senior thesis at Princeton University with the assumption that college graduates would invest their time and energy into bringing equality to education.
Kopp was right: The organization has grown from 500 members to almost 20,000 since its inception.
Smith said she first heard about Teach for America in an in-class presentation. During the presentation, she recalled hearing statistics on underachievement in America’s education system and wanted to do something to fix the system.
Do you want to beat the rush-hour traffic of nine-to-five America? Want to have an exciting career story of your own while still in your twenties? Check out these other organizations and resources:
Action Without Borders (http://www.idealist.org/), http://www.goabroad.com/, http://www.workingabroad.org/
Nova Group ‘ Teach English in Japan (http://www.teachinjapan.com/)