Heather Phelps joined the Peace Corps after graduating from UW-Eau Claire in 2012 with a degree in political science and a certificate in Teaching English as a Foreign Language. Since July 2013, she has been serving in the Philippines as a youth development volunteer. She is one of 13 Blugolds currently serving as Peace Corps volunteers. Since the Peace Corps was created in 1961, 347 UW-Eau Claire graduates have served as Peace Corps volunteers. UW-Eau Claire now ranks 24th among the agency's top volunteer-producing mid-size colleges and universities in the country. Heather shares some of her experiences in the following Q&A.
What are your main projects?
Mostly I'm working on general English teaching (grades 7-10) and library development, along with reading enrichment. I've also been working on a theater production and will be arranging a theater workshop for teachers this summer.
How did UW-Eau Claire help prepare you for international service, or lead you to Peace Corps?
My major at UWEC was political science, which definitely helped lead me in international directions. I also had the opportunity to study abroad in Graz, Austria, for a semester. I lived in the international residence hall my entire time at college, and made several good friends among the international students. Finally, the biggest reason why I was accepted into the Peace Corps was because I earned a certificate in teaching English as a foreign language. Besides being an excellent instructor, Dr. Kate Reynolds helped me find several summer camps where I gained experience in teaching English.
What or who inspired you to serve in the Peace Corps?
I honestly don't know. I've planned to join the Peace Corps for a very long time. I suppose my first real interest in international teaching came when I was in fifth grade and my family traveled to Southeast Asia. We met several missionaries there and visited a school that one of the wives was running for their children. That was when I first decided I wanted to teach internationally.
What are your career aspirations?
That's been changing since I've been in the Peace Corps. For a long time I planned that, after the Peace Corps, I would join the State Department as a diplomat. I've grown to love being here and teaching English so much, though, that I might end up looking for more work teaching when I finish here. What major ways did the Peace Corps service change your perspectives? One way that my time in the Peace Corps has changed my perspective is in realizing what things are merely cultural and what things are more universal. Particularly at school, there are things that I expected regarding students, teachers, lessons, etc. But those are just products of the American culture and not universal. Methods of doing things here are just as valid even if they're not what I'm used to. But then, of course, some things like family and friends truly are universal.