By CLA Alum Amber Gomes
It’s been a while since I said that; trust me, if you don’t know about OSU, using that term gets some weird reactions (I’ll let you use your imagination).
That’s just one of the things I’ve learned living life after college. Others? Yoga pants are not everyday attire no matter how comfy or flattering they may be. Qdoba, Dutch Brothers, and assorted breweries are not the only options for sustenance; turns out when I need to I can actually cook. It’s not always a bad idea to wake up before 10am on a weekend. College sports are not as entertaining when not watching them in the arena or a bar in your college town with your college friends (personal opinion). Pretty intuitive lessons right? Not so intuitive ones? How to work in a town with less people than my college, deal with tribal politics, juggle projects outside of my expertise and job description, and adjust to the following: a completely different sense of time, new and not always appetizing food (Goat Brains anyone?), sleeping under a mosquito net, walking everywhere or riding amazingly overcrowded buses that are never on schedule, SUPER-hot weather, giant bugs, poisonous snakes, electricity-less and running water-less but bat-filled living conditions, REALLY bad music (to the point that you prefer the static on the radio), strangely accented English, and living in a fishbowl.
You might be wondering what in the heck I’m doing that is making me learn all these lessons… believe me I ask myself the same question some days. Other days I revel in the adventure that my life has become as a US Peace Corps volunteer in a tiny town called Kalawa in the middle of Eastern Kenya.
I know a lot of college students don’t really know what they want to do after they graduate. I was lucky enough that I did. I read about Peace Corps in a National Geographic when I was 12 and decided that one day I would be a volunteer. As a junior at OSU I applied for the program (It’s generally a year long application process)… and nothing else. I didn’t take the GRE, apply for a ‘real’ job, or look at, much less apply to, a graduate studies program. I don’t recommend following that path. One other lesson learned? If you only have one plan for post-college-life while every other senior talks about what job they are accepting or grad program they are attending, you will start to panic every time someone asks about your plans and you have to say ‘Well. I’m not really sure’. Lesson = have a backup plan, it’ll save you some stress.
I left Oregon June 3rd (Yep 2 weeks before graduation which meant finishing my International Degree Thesis and all my other classes 3 weeks early) and arrived in Kenya June 6th. After 10 weeks of training in a place called Oloitokitok in the shadow of Mt. Kilimanjaro, I was inducted as an official volunteer and sent to my site, 10 years after I told myself I would become a volunteer. In Kalawa I work primarily with the Ministry of Public Health as a member of Kalawa Health Center’s Public Health Office. A pretty ambiguous sounding job right? I mean what does an office of public health actually do? That’s the biggest challenge I’ve faced here. Strangely it is sometimes easier to say what things I do not do than what I do do. People have asked me to help start a rock quarry, learn to build solar panels so I can teach community members how, fly them or their children to America, provide food, give them most of my belongings, marry them so they can have a green card, or just give them thousands of dollars or Kenyan Shillings. None of those is in my job description. Not. Going. To. Happen.
Other things have been more ambiguous. Can I help local chicken farmers? Can I help find funding to extend the local borehole (there is one building in town with running water, everyone else has to fetch theirs)? Can I assist in a literacy boost and the creation of libraries in 37 primary schools? I know absolutely nothing about chicken farming (is an egg fertilized in the chicken or after it is hatched?), but it can better the nutrition of the community; nutrition counts as public health. Borehole water is less likely to spread waterborne diseases than water from unprotected wells; that counts. Literacy and libraries? Can’t stretch to make that one work… but I have a geeky weakness for books so it is happening.
Fortunately some things were easy to say yes to. Do I want to teach health to the secondary schools in the immediate area? Yes. Do I want to start Scouts in local primary schools to use it as a vehicle for teaching First Aid, Health, Reproduction, Exercise, and Nutrition? Yes. How about helping local support groups for people living with HIV/AIDS by training them and helping them to do prevention outreach amongst their neighbors? Yes. Or training and shadowing Community Health Workers as they strive to provide Home Based Care in their communities? Yes.
Between the ‘no’s, stretches and ‘yes’s I’ve managed to find a balance that has made my life challenging and yet manageably fulfilling. That’s my last lesson learned during post-college life. Find a job, career, volunteer opportunity, what have you, that is challenging and satisfying. Finding a job post-college is tough, and ya sometimes you are going to have to take that desk job as a secretary (I did, shout out Psych Department); when that happens make the best of it. But if it doesn’t do it for you, and you know it won’t long term, keep looking for that opportunity to make your life what it should be. If it doesn’t challenge you eventually it will bore you. If it doesn’t satisfy you it’s just a job and it’s going to be hard to truly enjoy that the rest of your life.
Many of you reading this are probably Freshmen so you can go ahead and shelve my advice for now. Enjoy your college years, meet Benny, sleep in the MU lounge or the library, visit El Prez on your 21st, walk through the Quad, hang out in Dixon, join a club or Greek Life, make a fool of yourself on Western Wednesday, freeze during football games, get sunburned during baseball games and enjoy all the sports in the seasons between, have fun trying to find parking, meet new people, and all that jazz. But in three years when you are looking at leaving the dam (couldn’t resist), keep two things in mind.
- Have a backup plan. It never hurts.
- Find a job that will make you happy. No matter how hard that sounds it’ll be worth it.