Alumni volunteer to serve overseas through Peace Corps

Shortly after graduation, Brittany Kuhn volunteered for the Peace Corps. She served as a seventh and eighth grade English teacher on the volcanic island of Fogo in Cape Verde for two years.

“It was just an idea, an adventure, that I couldn’t shake,” she said.

Since its establishment on March 1, 1961, the Peace Corps has had more than 200,000 volunteers; 352 of them, including Kuhn, have been Cal State Fullerton alumni.

Currently, there are 23 volunteers from CSUF serving in the Peace Corps.

In April, the independent U.S. government agency ranked CSUF No. 2 on a national list of Top Volunteer Producing Hispanic-Serving Institutions.

Kuhn did not speak Kriolu, a local dialect, and resided in a country where there were strong language and cultural barriers between her and native residents.

Kuhn said she found teaching there both “unnerving and rewarding.”

“We had some clear barriers to overcome. Yet, over the course of two years, I watched them grow from hesitant children into courageous adults,” said Kuhn. “And during the course of the time, we built a bridge together.”

After her time in the Peace Corps, Kuhn went to graduate school for international studies at the University of Denver.

She currently works at the Boeing Company as an advocacy and communications specialist, supporting global corporate citizenship.

For Miki Shaler, a French and international business alumna of 1994, the inspiration to join the Peace Corps was a Peace Corps organizer.

When she attended Claremont Graduate University, Shaler had a class with Nathaniel Davis, who helped former president John F. Kennedy start the Peace Corps in 1961.

Shaler said Davis would tell stories about his career in the U.S. Foreign Service, and would also talk about how he would join the Peace Corps if he could.

“I was actually in the middle of taking the oral part of the Foreign Service exam when I was hit with the thought, ‘Why am I doing this? I should join the Peace Corps instead!’ So I did,” said Shaler.

She later served as a small business development volunteer in Romania from 1999 to 2001.

Shaler’s primary assignment was to teach American accounting and business English at a private college in the city of Galati.

Her secondary project was working with a non-governmental organization that introduced AIDS and HIV education in elementary schools and group homes.

Shaler also held a workshop on how to write business plans, where she was introduced to grant writing and grants management.

Shaler said some of the highlights during her time in Romania included traveling around Romania and the neighboring countries, such as Turkey, Hungary and Bulgaria. She also made new friends with whom she still keeps in touch with to this day.

“My two years in Romania, while not always easy, were a very special time in my life and an experience that I will never forget,” Shaler said.

Olenka Langen graduated from CSUF with a degree in child and adolescent development. She joined the Peace Corps because she wanted to make a difference in the world, and the experience would allow her to follow her dreams of becoming a teacher.

“I wanted to travel and really learn what life was like in another culture, so that when I taught in the U.S., I could share those experiences and open the eyes of my future students to the global society they would become a part of,” said Langen.

She served as an Environment Education Promoter in Ecuador and Nicaragua, teaching environmental and science classes in schools, as well as conducting training workshops to help prepare teachers for the classroom.

While in Nicaragua, Langen worked with a youth group of 15 students, ranging in ages from 10 to 15, to create a world map. Ever since she saw it done in Peru four years earlier by a Peace Corps volunteer, it became a dream of Langen’s to create this map herself.

“The youth group never knew this, but they wanted to make this map for their community and for the school to learn more about the world,” she said.

She said they worked tirelessly, and struggled to get supplies and support. The map was completed two weeks before Langen left.

Today, Langen works as a second-grade teacher at Edward B. Cole Senior Academy in Santa Ana.

On her return visit, the town would tell her about the map they had finished.

If one wants to do something outside of the box and make a difference in the world and for themselves, then the Peace Corps would be ideal, Langen said.

“Two years may seem long, and while you are in the midst of it, you will struggle, but the payout is worth every hardship,” she said.

About Jennifer Nguyen