Amy Watkins, a 2017 Community Health Education graduate, is currently serving with the Peace Corps in Eswatini, formerly known as Swaziland. In Eswatini, she is participating in the Community HIV/AIDS Mitigation Project (CHAMP), where she works to support individuals living with HIV, as well as implement projects in order to prevent the spread of the disease. To learn more about Amy’s story, read her answers below.
What inspired you to get involved with the Peace Corps?
While growing up, I knew about the Peace Corps because my Aunt went to Bolivia for Peace Corps. I didn’t think that it was something that I could even imagine doing until I was at WOU during my first year. I became really involved at WOU, and got involved in Hall Government, PLUS Team, and in the Service Learning and Career Development department. During my second year, my advisor told me I was able to graduate a few terms early. Because of this, I looked at Peace Corps as an option for me to immerse myself in a new culture, challenge myself and strengthen my Community Health Education degree by gaining new experiences as well.
How did your time at WOU help you prepare for the Peace Corps?
WOU is one of the main reasons why I was able to become a volunteer with the Peace Corps. I was able to get involved with different organizations and strengthen my resume, while giving me new leadership skills. Being involved at WOU also gave me the confidence and the support group to help me make my decision to apply and accept the position in the Peace Corps.
How did you decide to volunteer in Eswatini?
One day I was searching the Peace Corps website for any openings, and stumbled upon the Eswatini/ Swaziland openings. I [had] never heard of Swaziland and was instantly intrigued by it. When I was looking up more information about Eswatini, there was a lot of mention [about] how people in Eswatini are known for their humor, kindness, and they have a communal outlook to living (everyone takes care of each other). Since I was getting a Community Health Education Degree, Eswatini was offering positions in the community health sector, so it felt like the perfect fit. After seeing the position opening I applied to the Peace Corps that day!
What is your daily routine like in Eswatini?
Everyday is a little different, but here is a rough estimate of what I do.
8:30am-1pm: Work at my community clinic
1-2pm: Meet my tutor and learn Siswati (the local language)
2-3pm: Walk home, make lunch
3-5pm: Relax, hang out with my host family, read, go on a run etc
5- 7pm: Cook dinner, relax
7-9pm: Catch up with friends and family, study, go to bed
What has been your best experience in Eswatini?
Thinking of one single experience is hard, because I have had a lot of incredible experiences over the last year. I think a lot of my favorite experiences are small things that happen in my community on a daily basis, whether it being a successful group meeting, making a new friend, remembering someone’s name, or talking to someone about their personal dreams or community goals.
What do you do for fun?
For fun, I love to travel around Eswatini when I have the opportunity to do so, because this country is such a beautiful place to be. One of my favorite places I have been to is Malolotja Nature Reserve – so breathtaking!
What has been the most challenging aspect of your time in the Peace Corps?
I think one of the most challenging things for me is the language barrier. Even though most people in Eswatini know the basics of English, I would rather talk to them in their mother language than the other way around. Especially when I am helping conduct camps or meetings, I wish I would be able to speak in Siswati only. One of the many reasons why I appreciate my counterparts is because they conduct the meetings and then translate for me when needed. I am also incredibly lucky because I have a tutor who meets with me twice a week to help me continue to learn Siswati. Learning a new language is challenging, but it makes me grateful for the people in my life to help me actively learn.
What advice do you have for students interested in joining the Peace Corps?
My advice to give to a student and interested in the Peace Corps is to get involved as much as possible during your time at WOU! The Peace Corps experience can have a lot of ups and downs, and might not be for everyone. But, I think if a student is willing to be out of their comfort zone, challenge themselves, and be adaptable to a new environment/ culture, I say look into it! There are a lot of opportunities in the Peace Corps (like Health, Youth Development, Education, Agriculture, Economic Development, Etc) so if any of these aspects interest you, I would definitely recommend researching about the Peace Corps.
How have you grown throughout your time in the Peace Corps?
Currently in this season I reflect on the last year and see a lot of personal and growth that has happened within myself. I am more independent, confident, and self reliant than I ever have [been]. For professional growth, I have learned how crucial intentional relationship building is, and in order to effectively work and make changes in the work environment has to start with having good connections. I have also learned that whatever my future career path is, I want to work with youth. Since I have a little over a year left I believe that I still have a lot of growth for me to happen, and I am excited to see what happens.
What has been your biggest takeaway from the Peace Corps? Is there any aspect you’ll try to implement in your life or in your community?
Even though I still have a little over a year left of my service I think one of the biggest takeaways that I will bring back with me is to truly enjoy the little things in life. It’s the small things and small wins that truly make a big difference. Some of my favorite moments with my friends and family [are] unplanned moments that end up being a rich and fulfilling moment that make my service so worth it.
What are your plans after the Peace Corps?
Currently, I’ve been thinking that after my service in Peace Corps I am heavily considering going back to school to get my Masters in Social Work. I don’t have a specific career choice yet, but I strongly prefer that my line of work will be working with children and families.