January 1, 2001: Headlines: COS - Lesotho: Biology: Graduate School: Reverse Culture Shock: University of Arizona: There is a difference between up country, in country, and going country. Learn these and other even more bizarre notions from returned Peace Corps volunteer and U of A Plant Sciences graduate, Faye Farmer

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Lesotho: Peace Corps Lesotho : The Peace Corps in Lesotho: January 1, 2001: Headlines: COS - Lesotho: Biology: Graduate School: Reverse Culture Shock: University of Arizona: There is a difference between up country, in country, and going country. Learn these and other even more bizarre notions from returned Peace Corps volunteer and U of A Plant Sciences graduate, Faye Farmer

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There is a difference between up country, in country, and going country. Learn these and other even more bizarre notions from returned Peace Corps volunteer and U of A Plant Sciences graduate, Faye Farmer

There is a difference between up country, in country, and going country. Learn these and other even more bizarre notions from returned Peace Corps volunteer and U of A Plant Sciences graduate, Faye Farmer

There is a difference between up country, in country, and going country. Learn these and other even more bizarre notions from returned Peace Corps volunteer and U of A Plant Sciences graduate, Faye Farmer

Faye Farmer
Laboratory Technician/Peace Corps Volunteer, Arizona State University

B.S. in Plant Sciences, University of Arizona, 1996

The line between bravery and stupidity is a very fine line, indeed. You will always look, act, and sound strange, regardless of how hard you try to fit in. Polka dots and plaid really do match. There is a difference between up country, in country, and going country. Learn these and other even more bizarre notions from returned Peace Corps volunteer and U of A Plant Sciences graduate, Faye Farmer. Learn that no matter what your station, your goals, your past, your future, Peace Corps provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for everyone who is up to some change, excitement, and learning new rules for life. Peace Corps provides mind blowing experiences that will not only leave you breathless, pushing the outer limits of self discovery, and thinking outside the box, but gives you something really cool to put on your resume or on those statements of purpose for graduate school.

The following is a transcript of Ms. Farmer's presentation at Biology Career Day 2001:

My name is Faye Farmer, and I graduated from the University of Arizona in 1996 in plant sciences. I was a UBRP student for a year in a very famous man's lab - so I can say that it is who you know.

So I graduated in 1996, and six month later I put in an application for the Peace Corps. Six months later I was invited to serve in a country called Lesotho that is completely surrounded by South Africa. It is about the size of Maryland, and it has been independent since 1966. It has a government and populace that is one group of people from one tribe with one language. So it is really quite stable in a lot of different ways compared to the rest of Africa. I served as an agricultural extension agent for two years from May of 1997 to April of 1999.

The Peace Corps is not a career although some people try to make it a career. They actually have a cut-off date. You can only serve three years as a volunteer, and then you have to go home for a year. Then they will take you again. So it is not a career. The most that you can put in is five years. The turnover is incredibly high. I think that is really important. In my experience in Peace Corps, I lived five hours car ride from the capital city, and I was the only person who was white and spoke English for twenty kilometers around my area.

So I was in a rural community that was very poor and malnourished. There was subsistence farming - it was just a really bad situation for the people. It was an incredible experience, and I wouldn't trade it for the world. Other people were stationed in the cities - so the experiences really varied.

I spent two years in this community, and when it rained for three days, you couldn't go anywhere. You just sat in your hut and you had your little bucket to take care of your necessary needs because the toilet was twenty feet away. There was mud all the way there, and it was just too much of a bother. You just really had a lot of time to think. I would sit in my hut, and I would read and think. I would say to myself, "When I get home, I want to do this." And I came up with everything. It was really was a shakedown for myself.

I got to see a part of the world that I had never seen. I got to see the actual impact of scientific research on Third World countries, which I have a plethora of opinions on. Monsanto was there putting up cornfields next to the city. They are everywhere. In my community, if you didn't grow it, you didn't eat. If you didn't raise the chickens, you weren't going to have eggs or a source of income for the next year.

If you took a class on HIV and AIDS, you just learn the mechanisms. If you went and actually lived in the community where I was, I saw three people die from AIDS. It brings it all home, and you can see what living on the edge between life and death is about. Out of that experience, I decided that I wanted to come home and work really hard. I initially worked in a bookstore for six months or so because I did a lot of reading and knew a lot about books. I though the bookstore would be a good transition. There is a lot of culture shock that happens when you come home. So that was a good opportunity for me.

Then I got a job at ASU as a research technician in an entomologist's lab in the Department of Biology. Again, it's the best thing that I have done in my life next to the Peace Corps. I work for a woman who is research faculty. So she is completely on soft money. That's part of my situation where having a bachelor's and having an entry level position, you have to get used to soft money. You have to get used to balancing job interviews with your current job because you are always thinking four months in advance. It's obvious after doing this interview process that to do what I wanted to do with the decisions I had made in Peace Corps to really impact the world the best I could in plant sciences that I needed to go back for graduate school.

So it is also a financial decision at this point in my life. I have been in the lab for a year and a half and making about $25,000 on soft money. In about five years, if I bounce from lab-to-lab, I could be up to about $30,000 probably. I am not willing to wait that long - so I am going to spend those three years going to graduate school. My purpose has changed because of the two years that I spent in Peace Corps because I know how, when you talk in the abstract about genetic modification of important crops, I know who it impacts. I have seen their faces, and I have lived with them for two years. So my science is going to be different, and I am looking for somebody of a like mind.

Questions and Answers

How hard is it to get into the Peace Corps and how hard is it to be in the Peace Corps?
It is not that difficult. They are requesting that you have a bachelor's degree or commensurate experience in the field. A lot of people that I knew were older, but they had tons of experience. The oldest volunteer in my group was 65. Half of our group was over 40 and half was under 40 - out of thirty people. They do expect a bachelor's or experience. It does take six month to a year to process the application. In my case, it took six months and I had some time before I could go. They have to do a background check and a security check to make sure that you are okay. They also do a medical examination. They have to make sure that any chronic things must be manageable. They will take you with a chronic problem as long as you can manage it overseas. The health care that they provide is really great. The pay is terrible. You end up with $2,400 a year. I made less in the Peace Corps that I did my senior year in college working at a pizza parlor down the street. It's really not good pay, but you are making the most in your village. I also got to see all that I wanted to see of Africa. The salary might be raised now, but I think you get about $200 per month put aside for every month that you serve. When you come back, you get that money.

Would you recommend a Ph.D. track or a master's and then a Ph.D. if you were definitely going to the Ph.D. eventually?
I can't commit seven years of my life right now - I just don't want to. So I went in for the master's. I applied here for the master's at the U of A and a couple of other places. I feel comfortable with that. Faculty members try to talk you out of it. It's not a bad thing. Eventually I do want a Ph.D., and I know that. I also know that the sun will come up the next day. So I am going to go and work and then come back. I have no problem getting a Ph.D. when I am forty. I see the Ph.D. more as a time when you concentrate efforts in the production of a dissertation, and that's all it really is. I know that I can do research and publish with my bachelor's or a master's - either one. But it's seven years of concentrated studies for a Ph.D., and I can do that whenever I want. I can do it now or I can do it later. If you are eventually going to get a Ph.D., you just need to consider the factor of timing.

How did you handle your culture shock when you got back?
You know the Exorcist kid? That's what it's like when you go, and that's what it's like when you get back. It's sensory overload - that's what it is. Everybody is loud, and everybody is moving all the time. Working in a bookstore was really interesting. With customer service, I was talking with people constantly. I slept twelve hours a night during the first few months when I got home. There was just so much going on and so much for me to process, that it was just really difficult - whereas there, I spent three months in language and cultural training. We slept, and we ate. I think that's where the culture shock came in. I gained like twenty pounds and slept a lot and got rid of the bags under my eyes. That was my response to culture shock on the way there.

There are things that you just would never think about. There are cultural ways to practice agriculture - like the women tend to be in charge of the farm. The men are in charge of the cattle. So women don't go anywhere near the cattle - it is taboo for women to walk past the corral where the cows are kept. You couldn't touch them - you couldn't get close to them. There were certain things with raising chickens, too. Women could raise chickens, but they couldn't eat eggs because that brought them sexual maturity faster. As a nutritionist and being in the village, I had to advocate eating eggs, but it was against the cultural norms. The lack of protein could be remedied by the simple fact that, if women who were coming of age and losing blood, would start eating eggs during that time period. It could solve a lot of problems, but it was a cultural practice. I had to examine things myself by asking how comfortable am I as a Westerner coming into this village and saying they should forget their cultural taboo. It's what they know, and you deal with that all the time. You realize how much culture has sunk its teeth into you from what you know and expect from the world.

How did the Peace Corps help you with what you are doing now?
The Peace Corps is very interesting that way. It taught me a lot with regard to how I conduct my day now. When you go, you are given a program. My program was food security working with an NGO. There were four different prongs to the program. Basically there was general garden usage, home garden usage and improvement, small income generation either through sewing, knitting, basket weaving, any kind of craft or production, small animal husbandry, which I had no experience in and didn't touch, and there was one other, but I can't remember what it was. It basically focused on nutrition and balance between the community and schools.

I worked with three different elementary schools. One was like five minutes walk away, one was an hour walk away, and another was like two hours walk away. So those were my main duties. The schools were focal points in the community where people gathered to have meetings and where they went to church. So I spent a lot of time at the schools. They told me about this program and discussed all the background and took me to training. We talked about what we needed to do in this program. I got to my village, and they couldn't care less. What happened is that the program evolved. It kept the same structure, but it evolved to a point of contact. An agricultural extension agent here at the U of A works with producers mainly. You go out to producers and try to fill consumers' needs. There everybody is a producer and a consumer. There is a very small network.

So I worked on a one-to-one basis and tried to improve their lot as best I could. If they needed funding, I would write grants to improve schools, to get pre-schools started, to get blackboards in the rooms, to get cement to repair foundations in buildings. I worked a lot with schools that way. Individuals would be a little different. You had to handle them differently because the funding is different. It would be benefiting an individual and not the community, but in the long run it is.

There were a lot of intricacies with development work - like grassroots efforts and how you approach grassroots efforts. So I learned a lot that way. Then if it rained, everything would be off for that day. So if I had set up a meeting with community leaders to talk about funding for the school down the road, then it would be off. We have to spend the next few months deciding when the next best date was. Some days it would get to the point where I just had to get out of the house. So I would just walk over to the school and hang out with the kids. We would talk about stuff - we would talk about being an American, we would talk about being white, we would talk about speaking English, whether we had mountains in the United States. It just got me out and talking with them. It forced me to do that because generally I am not a real go-getter kind of person. I learned that that could be done in my life and that it should be done. Now I am in a situation where I need to go out and market myself. Networking has never been my strong point - so now I am learning that that has to be done. I approach it the same way as going up and knocking on the door of some person who doesn't speak my language and their children run away in fear when they see you.

So I learned a lot that way, but really it depends on the kind of person you are. You could spend all day in your house being homesick and drinking Coke, or you can get out there and set up your project. The Peace Corps tells you over and over again that it depends on who you are, and you make a decision early on whether you are going to be the person who sits in your house or the person who goes out. We had two people in our group who just traveled - they didn't do anything for the community at all. If you want to go into the Peace Corps for that, I will be honest - you can. But if you want to go and make a difference, the biggest difference that I ever made wasn't to the community - it was to myself. If you want to go and make that kind of difference, you decide that you are going to leave your house everyday. My work ethic was reinforced. Ever since I was 16, I have worked at restaurants through college and everything. Coming back made me realize how lucky we are to be able to work as much as we do. It has also made me appreciate the down time. I don't want to work until 10:00 p.m. every night in the lab. I do want to go to work everyday. I have no problem with that whatsoever, and really what I want to do right now is work. A lot of people go into graduate school because they don't know what they want to do. I know that I want to do - I want to work. I want to put my time in. When it rains here, we can still go outside because the roads don't wash away.

What do you consider the main advantage to staying in the academic world as opposed to going into industry?
I would actually choose to go into industry if there were any in Arizona. For my field in plant biology, I would have to move to California. I could have the same job and make twice as much money as in industry. I prefer being industry, but there isn't any here so I am biding my time. That's something to consider, too - if you are going to stay in academics, where is your job field going to be down the road.

When this story was posted in December 2004, this was on the front page of PCOL:

Changing of the Guard Date: December 15 2004 No: 330 Changing of the Guard
With Lloyd Pierson's departure, Marie Wheat has been named acting Chief of Staff and Chief of Operations responsible for the day-to-day management of the Peace Corps. Although Wheat is not an RPCV and has limited overseas experience, in her two years at the agency she has come to be respected as someone with good political skills who listens and delegates authority and we wish her the best in her new position.

December 18, 2004: This Week's Top Stories Date: December 18 2004 No: 334 December 18, 2004: This Week's Top Stories
RPCV remembers Deborah Gardner's murder in Tonga 17 Dec
Maoist insurgents in Nepal release Swiss aid worker 17 Dec
RPCV Alison Williams exhibits portraits of Malian people 16 Dec
Former Brazil Medical Director convicted of drug charges 16 Dec
RPCV Joseph Opala researched slave trade in RI 15 Dec
Vasquez sees resurgent interest in PC 14 Dec
Senator who wanted duel with RPCV joins Fox 14 Dec
NPCA planning National Day of Action for PC funding 13 Dec
RPCV "Harry" Chandler votes in Electoral College 13 Dec
Critic says Moyers delivered neo-Marxist propaganda 13 Dec
Micronesia RPCV Walter Cavanagh has 1,496 credit cards 13 Dec
PC "Survivor" Julie Berry headed for California 11 Dec
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RPCV safe after Terrorist Attack RPCV safe after Terrorist Attack
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Story Source: University of Arizona

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Lesotho; Biology; Graduate School; Reverse Culture Shock



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