Study abroad experience spurs pursuit of Peace Corps

By Alyssa Naimoli

Study abroad experience spurs pursuit of Peace Corps

After following his wanderlust through Thailand and Botswana with the Rider study abroad program, Christopher Harris, a senior philosophy major, is ready for his next adventure: an opportunity to visit Africa to teach English, courtesy of his recent acceptance into the Peace Corps.

Harris believes “the best way to learn about yourself is to put yourself in an unfamiliar circumstance,” and that the way you react to the different situations will help you “extrapolate something new about your personality.”
Harris has taught English before to impoverished students in Thailand.

“I am looking forward to making relationships with my students and being a mentor to them,” he said. “I am also eager to start secondary projects based on the needs of the community.”

His travel experiences had such a significant impact on him that he decided to pursue this interest further, prompting him to apply to the Peace Corps.

“It helps for graduate school and a future job, but it was mostly because of some of the ethical issues faced while abroad; I felt obligated to help,” he said. “I don’t come from a wealthy family or anything, but I definitely had more opportunity, and I think it’s necessary for people with those opportunities to help those who don’t have them.”

Harris’ recent trips have exposed him to other countries, where he had interesting experiences.

“When I was in Botswana, I visited Zimbabwe to see the falls,” Harris said. “While I was there I saw all these trade posts set up by the locals. I traded my socks, my toothbrush, the clothes I brought. By the time I was done, I was in my underwear and a T-shirt because I traded everything so I could get gifts for my family and friends.”
The relaxed and laid-back nature of the locals he came across in Thailand and Botswana have changed his outlook on many situations in his life.

“In Botswana, the attitude people had toward life is very different,” he said. “There is no hustle and bustle like we have here. They are always singing and dancing. Even when things go wrong, they’re happy. I can’t wait to be back in that environment. It all made a very significant impact on me; I took it back with me.”

Christopher Harris plays with tiger cubs at a reserve while studying abroad in Thailand.

His previous travels include playing with tiger cubs, going on a nine-day camping trip where he saw tigers, elephants and giraffes within reaching distance, and celebrating Easter dinner with locals who would invite strangers into their homes for the holiday.

Harris’ next experience abroad is pending until after he completes the final stages of his acceptance, which include medical check-ups and a language studies program. Harris maintained a close relationship with the Study Abroad office while completing his application to ensure that everything went well.

Kim Cameron, assistant director of the Center for International Education, said it took months for Harris to finish his application for the Peace Corps. He had to put together several essays and recommendation letters, and fill out a six-page application. He will also have to endure a vigorous language class when he arrives in Africa. Harris is still unsure as to exactly where he will be assigned in Africa.

To future employers, this also gives a positive message that says the student is capable of reaching outside his or her comfort zone and working in an area full of diversity.

“Chris will come back and he will have an amazing résumé and be the perfect fit for foreign service,” Cameron said.

Harris will soon be abroad, once he finishes the final tests and paperwork required for his position in the Peace Corps. He encourages all students to take the chances he has taken because, like Cameron, he recognizes how significant and life-altering they have proven to be.

“Studying abroad broadens your perspective,” Harris said. “The way you see things from the Western perspective is very uniform and seeing the way people view America or the rest of the world politics is an interesting supplement to the way you see things, and also challenges your views and forces you to either defend them or re-address them.”


Printed in the 3/26/14 edition.

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