Sandwich to Jamaica, thanks to the Peace Corps

Crystal Aeppli always wanted to travel and volunteer her services to another country.

“The Peace Corps seemed to be the perfect fit for me,” she said. “I have had a number of friends complete a PC service, but one friend in particular inspired me the most. She did PC in the Philippines and seeing/reading her adventures made it more of a reality/viable option for me.”

The 24-year-old Sandwich woman is in the middle of her 27-month service commitment in Jamaica.

The Peace Corps was formed in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy. Its mission is to provide technical assistance, help people outside the U.S. understand American culture, and help Americans understand the cultures of other countries. Since its formation, more than 210,000 Americans have served in 139 countries. Today, 9,095 volunteers are working in 75 host countries.

Since 1962, Peace Corps Jamaica has had 3,700 volunteers, including 58 who are currently serving. Volunteers work in the areas of agriculture, environment, community development, education and youth development. Volunteers are trained and work in Jamaican Patois, a local language.

After graduating from Sandwich High School in 2006, Aeppli earned her bachelor’s degree in physical education and business at Valparaiso University in 2010. It was then she decided to apply for the Peace Corps, which she found out can be a rather strenuous task.

“Most people say that the application process is the most difficult of everything,” Aeppli said. “And I agree.”

After one applies, Aeppli said there’s a long wait for a personal interview. Those who do well on the interview are nominated for a specific country, which means you’re in, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll go to that country.

“Once you’re at this level, you have a whole heap – as we like to say in Jamaica – of paperwork to turn in, like medical records and other stuff,” she said. “After you turn in all your paperwork, you basically sit back and wait for your official invite to your country of service.”

Once the invitation comes, a person has just a few days to accept.

Once in a country, Aeppli became a Peace Corps trainee. While each country is different, Jamaica has a nine-week training process, which includes language, cross-cultural training and anything specific about that particular country.

It’s only then, that Aeppli was sworn in as a Youth as Promise II sector volunteer and began work with the Queensbury Citizens Community Association.

“Prior to coming to the country, they have selected your sector based on your application,” Aeppli said. “PC knows which countries have which needs, and they match your skill set with where they think you will do best. If you already speak a country’s language, then you might be more apt to being placed in that country, but that’s not always the case.”

Among her duties, Aeppli teaches PE at her local primary school for grades 1-6 (ages 4-12). She also does community work where she deals with people of all ages. According to a press release, she is helping recruit local residents to work at a new computer lab in her community; she will later train the volunteers on computer skills and software usage.

Like the other volunteers, Aeppli lives with a host family. Although living arrangements vary, she lives in a flat below “Auntie” and “Uncle.”

So what does she think of it so far?

“I love it,” she said, enthusiastically. “It is definitely the most challenging thing I’ve put myself through in my entire life. Learning an entirely different culture and being the only white/American in the area can be difficult at times.”

Aeppli admits that she had no expectations when she first arrived in Jamaica, especially since she didn’t know that much about it except that it was dangerous and everyone smokes ganga (marijuana), which is illegal.

“Little did I know those perceptions are incorrect,” she said. “Jamaica can be dangerous, yes; however, much like America, it has its good and bad spots. Stay clear of the bad spots, which isn’t too difficult, and you’re OK. Jamaicans are welcoming to their visitors and want to leave the best impression on foreigners, much like any other country.”

Through all her experiences, Aeppli said she’s been learning a lot about Jamaicans, as well as herself.

“Jamaicans are great people,” she said. “They will give you the shirt off their backs if you needed it. People are quick to help in any way, shape or form that they can. They are the most brutally honest people I have ever met in my life. If you look fat in your jeans, they will  definitely let you know it. No political correctness here, and it’s great.”

Although the weather is warmer in Jamaica than here, Aeppli said it’s also more humid. During the winter, when temperatures dip to the 70s, she said she actually gets cold enough so she has to wear a jacket and pants.

Although she originally thought that “hand washing and walking everywhere in 1,000 degree heat” would be the he most difficult things she would encounter, she was surprised to discover they weren’t. Actually, it’s the emotional aspects, like being away from friends and family, not being 100 percent fluent in the language, missing your favorite foods and when your new best friend is a local 60-year-old.

“Life is different, but good different,” she said.

While in service, Aeppli receives all living expenses and full health and dental coverage, and gains field experience and cross-cultural skills. Upon completing service, she’ll receive more than $7,000 as a readjustment allowance and can take advantage of federal employment benefits and Peace Corps’ Paul D. Coverdell Fellows graduate programs, which offer financial assistance at more than 70 partner colleges and universities nationwide.

Aeppli said she would definitely recommend the Peace Corps to anyone who may be thinking about joining.

“It’s different to live in a country than it is to travel somewhere,” she said. “You really get a different view on the people and the culture being in PC. Essentially, as PCVs (Peace Corps volunteers), we take on roles of ambassadors of America. We need to make sure we present a positive image because, to some, we may be the only Americans that they meet in real life, as opposed to ‘Jersey Shore’ pinheads they see on TV.”

To join the Peace Corps, a person must be a U.S. citizen, at least 18 and commit to a 27-month service. For more information on the Peace Corps, visit www.peacecorps.gov.

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