January 28, 2005: Headlines: COS - Vanuatu: The California Aggie: Peace Corps Volunteer Corrine Kirkbride in Vanuatu

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Vanuatu: Peace Corps Vanuatu : The Peace Corps in Vanuatu: January 28, 2005: Headlines: COS - Vanuatu: The California Aggie: Peace Corps Volunteer Corrine Kirkbride in Vanuatu

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Peace Corps Volunteer Corrine Kirkbride in Vanuatu

Peace Corps Volunteer Corrine Kirkbride in Vanuatu

Peace Corps Volunteer Corrine Kirkbride in Vanuatu

Teaching in Paradise

One woman's experience in the Peace Corps

By DYANNA QUIZON / Aggie News Writer

Posted 01/28/2005

Some of the children stare back at the camera as if they don't quite know what to think of the contraption pointed at their faces. Others simply smile with a thumbs-up sign, saying everything is a-OK with them. In the midst of it all, Corrine Kirkbride sits with a content child in her lap and a joyful smile on her face.

This moment, captured by a single black-and-white photo, makes every struggle she faced in an unknown country, every amenity she gave up and every day without her family, worthwhile.

Kirkbride was a volunteer in the Peace Corps program stationed in the village of Emua on the island of Vanau Lava when the picture was taken. Just one of the 80 islands of Vanuatu, most famously known as the recent site of the reality show Survivor, Vanau Lava was Kirkbride's home for over two years.

Arriving in October 2001, she would stay for 27 months on the island, the typical requirement for Peace Corps service, learning the language, culture and technical skills necessary for performing her job as a teacher in a secondary school.

One of the thousands of students across the country who have volunteered in the Peace Corps program since its inception in 1961, Kirkbride found herself in a foreign country, participating in a program that would change the rest of her life.

Currently, UC Davis is ranked 25th in the nation for the number of volunteers it sends into the Peace Corps with 43 alumni currently serving as volunteers.

As a mathematical science major, Kirkbride didn't fit the description of the typical Peace Corps volunteer. According to Tim Griffin, Peace Corps coordinator for UCD, liberal arts majors tend to make up a big portion of volunteers due to their desire to go out and be proactive without a specific focus. However, Griffin said that there is no longer a "typical" Peace Corps volunteer.

"Hippie or overachiever, Ag-heads to engineers, there really isn't any stereotypes anymore," Griffin said.

"I just wanted to try other options instead of starting a 30-year career," Kirkbride said. "I knew that if I was going to do something different, I was going to go all the way."

The only Peace Corps volunteer on her island, Kirkbride had to quickly get accustomed to the isolation and reality of where she was.

"I'd like to say I didn't have any expectations besides the usual ideas of islands, palm trees and piña coladas," Kirkbride said. "There's no way you can imagine what two years in another country would be like."

With her background skills in math, Kirkbride took on her role as a math teacher in order to influence the children to more positive things. Having never received formal training before, the weirdest thing, Kirkbride said, was having her kids call her "Miss Corrine."

"It was a huge responsibility," she said. "You're a role model to these kids, and the most important thing was to be a good teacher. You're affecting people, not seeing how many things you can build."

According to both Griffin and Kirkbride, the most important quality a volunteer must have is flexibility.

Integrating into the community and helping them find their own needs are the first and most important things a volunteer should do, Griffin said.

"You can't do good sustainable work until you're part of the community," Griffin said. "You have to help the community identify their own needs instead of putting projects on them."

It was a lesson Kirkbride had to learn in her first couple of months in the program. Originally picked to serve her two years in Macedonia, Kirkbride had to be evacuated after civil unrest made the country too dangerous to stay in. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

"Everything happens for a reason," Kirkbride said. "Vanuatu is a great country, and the job was better for me."

As time passed, Kirkbride learned to adapt to, and eventually love, her surroundings. Living in the school, Kirkbride refers to her cement house with the bamboo porch, floor mats made by the people of the island, palm trees in the background and pit toilet in the back, as a "duplex." If it wasn't for the heat, it would have been paradise, Kirkbride said.

Showing pictures of the island and recounting stories of the children, it is obvious how much of an effect her time in Vanuatu had on her. She laughs at a picture of several bald-headed boys sitting at a table.

"The principal didn't think they were taking care of their hair so he had all their hair shaved off," Kirkbride said. "Can you imagine what would have happened if someone tried that here?"

Although emotionally close to her students, Kirkbride said she had to deal with the loss of direct contact since the islanders weren't accustomed to a lot of hugging or touching.

"One of my friends, who was a volunteer, would sometimes tell the kids she had lice just so they would check her hair," Kirkbride said. "You really need touch in your life. It was great when the kids would just come up to you and touch your face."

Despite being away from her family for two years, leaving the island was hard for Kirkbride.

"By the end, you're a part of the community," Kirkbride said. "There's a slim chance that I'll ever see them again, and it was hard to leave."

Kirkbride's time in the Peace Corps drastically changed her ideas for the future. Currently running two graduate programs in the division of biological sciences at UCD, she has applied to graduate school and hopes to one day teach at a community college.

"It's hard to leave the Peace Corps without wanting a job that is fulfilling," Kirkbride said. "I was able to witness the good that teaching does."

Eleven months after teaching in Vanuatu, Kirkbride was reminded again of how much of an effect she was able to have on the lives of her children. Along with a letter from the volunteer who replaced her after she left, Kirkbride received 11 letters from her students.

"Some of them said that if I don't like living in the U.S. anymore, I can come back to them," Kirkbride said with a smile on her face. "This is what makes you feel good despite whatever hardships that came with it. I would never take any of it back."

DYANNA QUIZON can be reached at campus@californiaaggie.com.

When this story was posted in January 2005, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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Story Source: The California Aggie

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