Category Archives: Top Posts

What I Want To Do After Peace Corps

As my Peace Corps service is dwindling to a close I am forced to face the question of what to do after Peace Corps. Before I look into the future, I think it is best to first look into the past.

When I graduated from college I had no idea what I wanted to do. The U.S. was in a recession at the time so I jumped on the first job offer I got, to join SPAWAR Systems Center as an electronic engineer in their New Professional rotational program. For my first rotation I worked with underwater low probability of detection signals. Although the work was intellectually stimulating, it involved little human interaction. In fact, there were days were the only person I would interact with at work was my supervisor. For my second rotation I joined the cost estimating division. I enjoyed working there because it connected my interest in both engineering and business. However, I always felt I was not as polished on the business side as I could have been.

So why join the Peace Corps? After studying abroad in Sweden during my senior year of college I’ve always had an itch to live and work abroad. I wanted to live in another culture and learn a new language and the Peace Corps provided me with the best opportunity to do both of these things. Perhaps my biggest takeaway from the Peace Corps so far is my interactions with the people. For example, I am working with an NGO to build partially subsidized household latrines (both the NGO and beneficiary contribute towards the construction of the latrine). This requires me to manage over 20 latrine artisans and 460 latrine beneficiaries to construct the latrines. Through this experience I learned that managing people is one of the most challenging, yet rewarding, things to do in the world.

After reflecting on my professional experiences I’ve decided that obtaining an MBA is the best next step for me after the Peace Corps. At SPAWAR I enjoyed working at the intersection of technology and business, but I realized I lacked business acumen that comes with a business education. Then in Ghana I discovered that I enjoy managing people, but it is a skill that requires developing. I’d like to focus on global management at a top MBA program. Not only will I gain fundamental business skills in finance, accounting, and operations that I lack coming from an engineering background, but I will also become a better leader through project work and classroom learning. Furthermore, I want to go to program that will broaden my international experience through a global consulting project, such as MIT Sloan’s G-Lab. I’m confident an MBA will help me develop my business and management skills and provide me with opportunities to continue working internationally.

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Donning of the Robes

Joining Good News choir was the easy part. Actually singing is the challenge. First, other than a pass/fail Gospel Choir course I took in college, I have no singing experience. I don’t even sing in the shower. However, one thing I learned in my Gospel Choir course is that it is really easy to blend into the crowd, so as long as I don’t have any solos I should be okay. Second, I didn’t know any of the songs and they are all in Ewe, making for a very steep learning curve. So I bought a song book and a few CDs and tried to learn the songs.

We practice three times a week: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Recently we’ve been combining practice with Church Choir and have invited a choirmaster to come lead the practices. This has helped me, because the practices are more organized and focused on one or two songs.

On Sunday Good News Choir held a ceremony for the donning of our choir robes. Wearing the robes is a big deal for the choir and the church as a whole. In fact, many people came to the ceremony, including the Abutia paramount chief and professionals who are from Abutia, but live outside the community. Someone made a very generous donation to purchase the robes. Each robe costs 100 Ghana Cedis and we bought about 30 of them. The women’s robes look like graduation gowns, because of the graduation type cap they wear and the men’s robes look like judge robes. Many people said I look good in a robe, so maybe I’ll consider a career as a judge.

My choir putting on the robes for the first time.

My choir putting on the robes for the first time.

I’m very happy with my decision to become a member of Abutia Teti E.P. church and Good News choir. It’s typical for Peace Corps volunteers to stay away from churches for different reasons and I might be the only one to have joined a choir.  However, being part of a group with so much tradition that many people in the community care about makes me feel part of my community.

Good News Choir after the robe ceremony.

Good News Choir after the robe ceremony.

Maybe I'll go for a career as a judge after the Peace Corps.

Maybe I’ll go for a career as a judge after the Peace Corps.

 


Ewe

A big motivation for me to join the Peace Corps was for the opportunity to learn a new language. In high school I attempted to learn Spanish. In college I attempted to learn Swedish. After college I attempted to learn French. Sure I could conjugate verbs with the best of them. However, I wasn’t able hold an extended conversation with someone in a foreign language and that’s the purpose of language, right? I think part of the reason for this is lack of conversation practice. You can spend hours inside of a classroom learning a language, but if you don’t speak it outside the classroom you will never be fluent. Fortunately, I have the opportunity to do this through the Peace Corps.

Initially when I was invited to serve in Ghana I was I bit disappointed that the official language is English (Ghana being a former British colony). I was hoping for the chance to learn French in a former French colony. Ironically, the three countries surrounding Ghana are former French colonies: Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, and Togo. However, I quickly learned that over 60 different languages are spoken in Ghana. So I would definitely get the chance to learn and speak a foreign language.

As you may know, the Peace Corps doesn’t give volunteers much of a choice of which country they serve in. Likewise they don’t give volunteers much of a choice where they live within the country they serve. You just have to trust the Peace Corps knows what’s best for you. The Peace Corps chose to send me to the Volta Region where Ewe is mostly spoken. Ewe is also spoken in Togo, Benin, and parts of Nigeria, which are the three countries east of Ghana. The Germans first recorded Ewe as a written language when they colonized the Ewe speaking region of West Africa before World War II. To this day some universities in Germany teach Ewe language courses. In fact, many people automatically think I’m German when they see me trying to speak Ewe.

After over three months of trying to speak Ewe, I have to say it is much more difficult to learn than Spanish or French. Ewe is tonal language. So you can have the same word, but depending on the tone of your voice the meaning changes. For example, the word “to” in high tone it means to pound, in low tone it means animal, and in nasal tone means thick. Since English (or Spanish and French) doesn’t utilize tones, it’s very difficult for me to understand the difference between high tone and low tone.

Fortunately, I’ve been able to find a teacher. The director of my local NGO has connected me with a retired Ewe university teacher. After a few lessons with him, I can already tell he has a wealth of knowledge about not only the Ewe language, but also the Ewe culture. Plus, he has plenty of experience teaching. In fact, he says that he taught Ewe to another American, who is now fluent in Ewe, lives in Ghana, and has written an Ewe-English dictionary. I’m not looking to be the next write a novel in Ewe, but after learning from Togbe (Togbe means chief or grandfather in Ewe) I hope to be on my way to Ewe fluency.