By Samantha Brandbergh
In her interview for the Peace Corps, Karen Miranda said her inability to effectively teach a small group of elementary school-age girls at science camp during her freshman year of high school was her biggest failure.
However, soon after she graduates from Rider in May, the senior public relations major and Chinese minor will be traveling to China to teach English for two years as a Peace Corps volunteer.
“It didn’t even process in that moment, but after, I was like, ‘That probably wasn’t the best failure story to tell,’” she said.
The answer clearly didn’t ruin her chances of being accepted.
Miranda originally didn’t have any plan to join the Peace Corps, she said, until she attended a global conference at Rider during her sophomore year.
It was there that she met recruiter Daniel Turkel, who served as a health volunteer in Albania. She expressed her interest in traveling and he gave her information on the countries in which the Peace Corps serves, although it was too early for her to apply.
Growing up, traveling was something Miranda was used to. She has family in Mexico and moved across the United States from California to New Jersey, so exploring different cultures has long been an aspect of her life.
She then expanded her global knowledge by studying abroad in two nations during her junior year of college: Spain in the fall and South Korea in the spring.
Because of her familiarity with the language and culture, studying abroad in Spain was a “great” experience for Miranda. South Korea, however, brought more challenges.
“I didn’t know the language. I didn’t know anyone there. It was much more difficult,” she said. “But, while I was there, I enjoyed the experience of feeling out of place to a degree. I really enjoyed having to try harder to integrate and being able to exchange cultures.”
This feeling only heightened her interest in visiting other foreign places.
As her senior year approached, Miranda started researching countries where she wanted to serve.
Her next step was to start the application, China being the only country she applied for.
After a month-long waiting game, Miranda received an email from the Peace Corps expressing interest in her, and she scheduled an interview. Two to three weeks following her interview, she received her acceptance email and had one day to decide if she wanted to accept the offer to serve in China.
But first, she had to tell her mom.
“I actually didn’t even tell my mom I was applying,” she laughed. “At first she was like, ‘Are you serious?’” After her initial shock, Miranda’s mom expressed pride in her daughter’s decision to volunteer and serve abroad.
Miranda’s mentors at Rider, including professor of Spanish Daria Cohen, share this sentiment.
“[Miranda’s] dedication to foreign language study has been exemplary,” Cohen said. “Her devotion to learning about foreign cultures positions her well to serve in the Peace Corps.”
Once she is in China, Miranda will be living with a host family and will endure a three-month preliminary period, during which she will be given lessons on the native language and culture to test if she will be able to adapt to the customs. She will then sign a contract and begin teaching.
For those curious about joining the Peace Corps, Miranda suggests reading blogs, such as “Kirstin & Paul: Peace Corps Volunteers in Tanzania” and “Two years in Peace Corps China” to learn about the application process, what to expect and to get answers to any other questions.
While teaching science to elementary school kids may not have been Miranda’s strong suit at the time, Shunzhu Wang, professor of Chinese, is confident that she has evolved as an individual during her time at Rider and is happy for her to put her minor to good use.
“[Miranda’s] performance in all the classes she took with me is outstanding, indicating a strong interest in and great potential for language acquisition, and healthy appetite for cultural and intellectual understanding,” he said. “This provides her an opportunity to put into use what she has learned about Chinese language and culture at Rider, and at the same time, deepen her understanding of China, its people and culture.”
Miranda is eager to take in all China has to offer.
“It has been something that I’ve wanted to do for a while, but it just hasn’t gotten there, so now to be given the opportunity to be there — not just for short term but for long term — and be able to experience the culture, the people, the language, it’s kind of like a dream come true,” she said.
Published in the 2/28/18 edition.