Alexander “Alex” James Plum
James Madison College, 2008
Federated States of Micronesia, 2008-2011
Motivations:James Madison College inspired me to make an impact on the world. I took advantage of MSU Study Abroad and went to Thailand and Lao People’s Democratic Republic to study political and economic development, which did a couple things: it infected me with the "travel bug" and instilled in me a deep value for the concepts of reciprocity, humility, shared learning, and global citizenship. For me, the Peace Corps was the logical next step in my journey of growing and learning about how to become a global citizen and impact the world.
Contributions: I taught English as a second language in a high school setting and I also initiated community health programs. My students were the first class of 11th and then 12th graders at a community high school that hosted young people from several neighboring islands. We had a 100 percent graduation rate and over 90 percent of the students passed the College of Micronesia Entrance test and enrolled in the fall. I still keep in touch with them—many have started families, have continued with further graduate studies; others have returned home to the island.
About a year into my service, one of my students committed suicide after he another boy got into an argument about chores at their home-stay family's place. Suicides in Micronesia are more common among young men (ages 15-24) than in other places and they are the result of complex forces involving families, changing social dynamics, and the effects of rapid Western “culturalization.” In response, I worked with island leaders to rekindle a traditional coming-of-age phenomenon in the form of a retreat for young men to learn important life skills and develop mentorship bonds with positive male leaders. Over 100 young men from throughout the region have attended the camp since we started it in 2010—not a single one has committed suicide.
Did it change you? I learned to value relationships over any other factor. Part of me entered the Peace Corps with the hope of spring-boarding into a career in international development, but I came to believe that "development" doesn't mean much outside of cultivating and sustaining reciprocal relationships. Today, I direct a program at Henry Ford Health System that identifies and adapts promising healthcare innovations from outside the U.S. to transform the health and wellness of vulnerable populations. My career in global health is a direct result of my Peace Corps service.
Favorite Anecdote:People often ask about the scariest thing to happen to me during my service. I took four fishing trips on the open ocean during which the 40 HP motorboat engine would suddenly cut-out and we couldn't get it restarted. Luckily, the winds were always in our favor (the sign of a smart boat operator is one who took us into the wind on the outbound journey) and we would just drift back to some point on the atoll and then walk our boat for several hours until we got to our island. After the stomach-sinking dread of impending death-on-the-high-seas wore off, the relaxation necessitated by quietly drifting back toward home is a sensation unparalleled by any I've had since. And drifting at night, lying on my back in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with an entire universe worth of stars to enjoy—well, I'll never forget.