Jessica Carducci: Service work, halfway around the world

Jessica Carducci graduated from BSU with a BA in English Studies in 2016. During her time here, she worked on the Broken Plate and the Digital Literature Review, and was the design coordinator for Reacting Out Loud. As an avid hockey fan, Carducci has volunteered as an editor for the Canadian Women’s Hockey League. She served as a secondary English teacher with Peace Corps Kyrgyzstan in the rural community of Asky rayon, Jalal-Abad Oblast. In this post, she recounts her experience with the Peace Corps and how it has impacted her life.

Why did you choose to go into the Peace Corps?

A workday selfie in a traditional Kyrgyz quilted jacket.

It sounded so interesting to me, so at least initially, it was because I’m such a curious person. It seemed like such an offhand discovery originally; I first thought about the Peace Corps because I stumbled across the blog of an RPCV (Returned Peace Corps Volunteer) who had been in the Ukraine. I was only looking for resources about learning and practicing the Russian language, but the more I read, the more I became enamored with the idea of traveling to a far-off country to do service work.

But in speaking with PCV’s and RPCV’s, it became about more than just curiosity and the world-traveler lifestyle. The Peace Corps places a lot of emphasis on both sustainable development and cultural exchange – both in learning about local cultures and in sharing the diversity of American culture. I wanted a place in that; I wanted to really be a part of whatever community I was in, and I wanted to see positive and permanent change happen.

What were your specific tasks within the Peace Corps?

I worked as a Secondary English Teacher in Kyrgyzstan. My main duty was to co-teach and lesson plan with a local English teacher, helping her to develop her language and teaching skills, as well as holding clubs and teacher trainings at my school and others. But the Peace Corps also afforded us the opportunity to do other projects in our community. For example, I was able to escort several of my students to a winter camp in the city where they learned sustainable project development and drafted a project aimed at our small, rural community. I helped them to secure grant funding, and they are currently working to bring clean water and a handwashing station to our school.

Students from Jessica Carducci’s 9th-10th form class at winter camp in Kyrgyzstan. They’re drawing a map of their community to demonstrate the community’s needs.

I also acted as an ambassador of American culture, in a way. I was the only American many in my community had ever met or would ever meet, so my behavior at every moment was shaping the way people thought about America. As such, I tried to answer questions and show the diversity of American culture. I talked about the wealth of ethnicities and nationalities that thrive in America, and how they interacted in my own daily life. And as a woman on what is considered the old side of unmarried by Kyrgyz tradition, I tried to demonstrate that a woman could be happy and successful even when she’s single.

What was most rewarding about your experience?

I feel grateful for every single person I had the pleasure of meeting as part of my service. This includes PC staff in Kyrgyzstan, the members of every community I joined, my host families, my local coworkers, and the other volunteers. Those connections I made – the experiences I have shared with all these people – are irreplaceable to me. That’s the real reward. It’s knowing that there are a hundred new people who will welcome me into their homes with a hug and a laugh, the same way they welcomed me into their lives.

How do you think being in the Peace Corps has shaped you, as a person and as a professional?

As a professional, the Peace Corps has given me the opportunity to travel to a country I had never heard of and to learn a culture and language I hadn’t known existed, as well as providing months of training in TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) methodologies and best practices. These are all things that look nice on a resume, but the experience of the Peace Corps goes even deeper than that for me. I was working in a low-resource environment that presented unique challenges to every aspect of my work, so I learned how to solve problems in creative and unconventional ways. I was an obvious outsider in an isolated, rural community, so I needed to communicate and connect with people on a personal level with every interaction. I was very far removed from the PC office and staff in the capitol, so I had to be self-sufficient and self-motivated in everything from my work to my health.

As a person, the Peace Corps has boosted my confidence and sharpened my sense of purpose. It showed me how fulfilling service work can be – how the tangible outcomes of that work can provide a happiness I’ve never known before. The pride I felt watching my students compose their first sentences is greater than what I’ve felt for my own achievements. It feels bigger than me – not that it’s more important than my own life or work, but that it is more powerful, an influence multiplied instead of just amplified.

I have a new perspective. If I can meet all the challenges of the Peace Corps, handle the stress of being immersed and isolated inside a completely foreign culture, and live over halfway around the world from my closest friends and family – if I can do all that and still be successful and happy, then I can be successful and happy just about anywhere.

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