Elizabeth “Liz” Wise
James Madison College, Honors College, 2008
Motivations: Most of my extracurricular activities at MSU focused on education—tutoring with Student Literacy Corps, teaching adults English as a second language, and working with high school Model UN teams through MSU Model United Nations. And so when I graduated, I had an idea that I wanted to combine my growing interest in education as a career path with my desire to live abroad. Peace Corps seemed like the perfect way to be able to do that while ensuring that I would be deeply engaged with the local language and culture of my host country and community.
Contributions:I find it difficult to really assess the long term outcomes of my own work, because of course nothing that I accomplished in Namibia was accomplished alone. One of my biggest projects at my site, besides actually teaching in the classroom, was reviving the school library, which had fallen into disuse. But I didn't do it alone; I had a lot of support from my colleagues and my students in getting books catalogued and ready for borrowing, and there was collaboration with teachers at my school and throughout my region around establishing best practices for school library use and management. So I do feel like I personally contributed a lot in that area (I practically lived in the library during my first year), and that it did and does have a positive impact on the school and the community. But everyone I worked with had a role to play in that success.
I'm also really proud of the number of students I taught at the village school who were able to go on to some of the really excellent high schools in our nearest large town or in Windhoek (the capital of Namibia). Many students from rural areas don't go on to high school, for a variety of reasons, and access to top schools can be very competitive. These were all highly motivated kids who had a lot of really good teachers throughout primary school, but it’s been really satisfying to follow their educational progress from afar through Facebook and email. I like to think that I played at least some role in helping them to enjoy school and improve their English skills. English is the medium of instruction in Namibian primary, secondary, and post-secondary schools, but isn't a first language for the vast majority of the population.
Did it change you? Peace Corps service put me firmly on my current career path. After three years of teaching in Namibia, I came back to the U.S. and earned my master's degree in teaching at Boston University. Today, I teach ESL to newcomer students in the Boston Public Schools, and the majority of my students are from Africa (although none from Namibia). Of course, schooling varies from country to country, but I think my experience in Namibia has helped me to better understand my students' educational contexts and to meet the needs they bring to the classroom.