Loyola Alumni Embody Service Overseas Through Peace Corps

Loyola alum Tim Kasckow spends his days preparing lesson plans and teaching in Lanzhou, a city in China’s northwest province Gansu. There, he teaches the English language at a college level to both undergraduate and graduate students.

But Kasckow isn’t a professor. He’s a 23-year-old volunteer in the Peace Corps.

Kasckow, who graduated from Loyola in 2016 with degrees in international studies and political science, is one of 18 Loyola alumni in the Peace Corps, a service program that sends U.S. volunteers abroad. The Peace Corps recently ranked Loyola no. 14 for medium-sized U.S. schools on its 2017 Top Volunteer-Producing Colleges and Universities list.

A Peace Corps spokesperson, who wished not to be named per the Peace Corps’ policy, said there’s no particular trend in which schools receive top rankings.

The Peace Corps sends recruiters to various universities and job fairs, the spokesperson said, but those interested can also apply online.

In total, volunteers sign up for 27 months in the Peace Corps, according to Kasckow, but they’re allowed to sign up for an additional year. This time period includes about three months in which the Peace Corps prepares its volunteers for their time in the country that they are placed in.

Volunteers can list countries they would prefer to volunteer in on their applications, or they can choose to be placed anywhere.

The organization has seen record numbers of applications in recent years, according to the spokesperson, who attributed that fact to the simplified application process.

Kasckow said he and a friend, who is also currently volunteering for the Peace Corps in China, both considered joining the organization since their first years at Loyola. After the pair spent a year studying at Loyola’s Beijing Center, he said they wanted to experience more and decided to join the Peace Corps a month and a half after graduating.

Kasckow said the experience is different from his time in the capital city and can be difficult because the students he teaches are usually around the same age as him or older.

“There’s a very strong emphasis on age and maturity … Young people are often [viewed as] not really knowing anything,” Kasckow said. “So it’s been a little challenging because people will always ask me how old I am, and so I try to say, ‘Old enough to be your teacher, leave it at that.’”

Kasckow is one of three Loyola alumni volunteers in China, which he said is a large number. Loyola alumni are also volunteering in Albania, Nicaragua, Morocco, Guinea, Togo, Benin, Namibia, Uganda, Tanzania, Mongolia, Thailand and Indonesia.

Loyola alumna Anna Buchanan also joined the Peace Corps in May 2016. She said she was inspired to travel more after studying abroad in London through Loyola and because her parents had traveled a lot. She researched the available countries and chose to volunteer in Mongolia.

“I thought it was a very unique and different country that not many people think of in the world,” Buchanan said. “I thought it would be amazing to go to a country that people are unaware of.”

Like Kasckow, Buchanan, 24, also teaches English, but her experience has been different. She teaches students in fifth through 12th grade but only has about a year’s worth of experience speaking Mongolian.

Buchanan, who graduated in May 2015 with history and journalism degrees, said the experience has proved to be challenging because of the language barrier and lack of hot running water. Still, she said she’s found her time with the students to be positive.

“I’m tall and blonde and [the students] rarely see blonde people in their town. I think it’s still exciting for me to be there for them,” Buchanan said. “It’s really fun to see their happy faces and it’s really great to see when students and teachers actually understand something and that they’re very appreciative of me being there to help them understand.”

Marcus Wright is another Loyola alum who joined the Peace Corps in the summer of 2016. Wright, 24, graduated in 2014 with degrees in international studies and psychology and spent his time before joining the Peace Corps in the AmeriCorps, a service program in the United States.

Unlike Kasckow and Buchanan, Wright chose the option on his application to be put wherever he was needed. This landed him as an English language and computer science teacher in a rural village in Namibia.

“I teach a crazy amount of grades of information and computers, which is funny because we don’t have enough computers to actually do the class,” Wright said.

Wright said he usually spends his days at a school with about 1,000 students, where he teaches eight classes, coaches a soccer team and helps out with after-school study. He said he’s gained a lot from his time in Namibia.

“So far it’s been great. I mean very hard, very very hard, but worthwhile in the sense of I’ve met some really cool people, both volunteers and the Namibians that I’ve met,” Wright said. “It’s pushing me outside my comfort zone and I think I can already see ways that I’m becoming more self-aware [and] getting a perspective on American culture that I think we hadn’t noticed before.”

Wright said his experience at Loyola, where he participated in Alternative Break Immersion service trips, prepared him for the Peace Corps.

“I feel like Loyola prepared me pretty well for traveling abroad, doing service,” Wright said. “The Jesuit emphasis on service is really big, so I mean, I think all of that kind of feeds directly into some of the Peace Corps missions.”

Buchanan also agreed that she wasn’t surprised that Loyola landed in the top rankings given its strong emphasis on service.

“Loyola definitely has a great message of serving others,” Buchanan said. “I met a lot of people at Loyola who definitely shaped my opinion of the world.”

The Peace Corps hopes its volunteers have their own personal experiences and take the lessons they learn back with them after their service is over, according to its spokesperson.

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Julie Whitehair is the editor-in-chief of The PHOENIX and a senior journalism student from Calumet City, Illinois. She hopes to combine her curiosity and love of words to continue reporting and storytelling after graduation.

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