Students leave classroom for Peace Corps

Julie Emslie, Tony Gasbarro, Susan Todd, and Benjamin Rance prep for Emslie and Rance’s upcoming Peace Corps experience.

By Jeremia Schrock
Sun Star Contributor

Two UAF graduate students will be swapping coursework for fieldwork this spring when they head to Central America for two years as Peace Corps volunteers.

Benjamin Rance, a first-year Natural Resource Management master’s student, and Julie Emslie, a second-year Rural and Community Development master’s student, joined the Peace Corps through the Master’s International Program (MIP), a branch of the organization which provides master’s students with the opportunity to incorporate their time abroad into their degree programs. Susan Todd, the academic coordinator for the MIP program, said that it helps to emphasize the give and take mission of the Peace Corps. While the Peace Corps has always been about helping those in need, she said, it has also been about “waging peace and bringing cultural understanding to other countries and back home in the U.S.”

Rance will be leaving for Honduras at the end of the semester. Emslie, who will be traveling with her husband Matt, will be shipping off to Jamaica in mid-March. Both Rance and Emslie will complete two to three months of acculturation training before spending the next two years embedded in communities in their respective countries.

Rance will work in several rural Honduran communities to promote environmental education and awareness. He will also train local farmers to use more sustainable methods of agriculture. Rance said the reason he joined boiled-down to selflessness. “Not to be corny, but it’s this idea of altruism; of putting other people’s needs before yours.” Rance said that he expects the trip to correct any misconceptions that he has of Honduras and that the Hondurans may have of us. “It’s my job” he said, “to represent Americans and maybe break some of the stereotypes.”

In Jamaica, Emslie will be working through the Ministry of Education in a program called ‘youth-as-promise’. It is designed to raise the literacy and education of marginalized youth. For Emslie, who works with Big Brothers, Big Sisters, this is not a drastic change of direction. She sees her service in Jamaica as a chance for personal growth. “I hope my mind is expanded and that I have a better understanding of poverty,” she said, “I mean, to experience another culture and not be changed? What a waste.”

Anthony Gasbarro, UAF Professor Emeritus and campus coordinator of the MIP, has high hopes for both Rance and Emslie. “Ben and Julie are going to be excellent volunteers,” he said. “They are both very flexible people who will adjust to anything their host countries will throw at them.” Gasbarro said that what was most important about Rance and Emslie was their passion to help the poor, but he also emphasized the diplomatic benefit of the experience. “We must not forget that the people in Peace Corps countries are getting to know real, down-to-earth Americans who care about them and when these volunteers return home they will share their experiences and knowledge with other Americans.”

What will the volunteers miss most during their time out of country?

Emslie said that she’ll be leaving her comfort zone and will miss the sense of familiarity that she feels here. “We’re breaking out of these very structured worlds into a place of ambiguity… that’s a huge thing.”

Rance said that he will probably miss music and food the most “It’s going to be weird coming back and not knowing any of the songs! And…nothing beats steak and potatoes.”

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