Seton Hall University alumna Rachel McCarthy is no stranger to travel. As a Seton Hall student, she spent time in Spain and the south of France. Her majors in diplomacy and international relations and modern languages, Spanish and French, lent themselves well to exploring the globe. But now she is in for a different kind of travel.
A 2017 Hall graduate, McCarthy is now joining the Peace Corps and has been assigned to Panama.
McCarthy has lived in Central America, specifically El Salvador, before. She has also backpacked across much of southeast Asia, including Thailand, Lao, Vietnam and Cambodia. While she is a seasoned traveler, this experience with the Peace Corps is quite the new adventure.
According to a Peace Corps press release “prior to joining the Peace Corps, [McCarthy] worked in El Salvador as an art teacher at the REMAR organization and as an English teacher at El Zonte Arts and Learning, Inc.”
As a member of the Peace Corps, McCarthy will be focusing on education which has always been an interest of hers. From living in Central America for two years, she had developed a passion for “sustainable education.”
“McCarthy will work in cooperation with the local people and partner organizations on sustainable, community-based development projects that improve the lives of people in Panama and help McCarthy develop leadership, technical and cross-cultural skills that will give her a competitive edge when she returns home,” the release said.
The schooling offered at Seton Hall did, in fact, build a framework for McCarthy: “I think the diplomacy school [at Seton Hall] is excellent,” she said. “I was always interested in the classes I took and it definitely helped form my perspective.”
McCarthy added that her education was “very influential in forming [her] interests and [her] ability to search for knowledge.”
She was also an active student at Seton Hall stating, “I was on the e-board of amnesty international.”
“I was also an RA, but I studied abroad,” McCarthy said.
When discussing what she will be doing as an educator in Panama, McCarthy said, “I’ll be working with teachers, not necessarily directly teaching classes in schools.” She explained that the education program was focused toward community building and “oftentimes geared towards youth development.”
McCarthy has always had an interest in human rights and similar topics, stemming from her days as a college student. “I’ve always been interested in it, human rights was my focus when I was at Seton Hall,” McCarthy said.
For her, education is an extension of human rights. “Educational development is an extremely important part of international development,” McCarthy said. “When children (especially girls) have access to proper education, the quality of life for the whole population goes up.”
“I’m also really excited to begin developing a relationship with my community,” McCarthy said. She also said that she was excited for both the opportunity to add to her teaching skills and for mango season in Panama.
“McCarthy will live with a host family in Panama to become fully immersed in the country’s language and culture,” the release said. “After acquiring the necessary skills to assist her community, McCarthy will be sworn into service and assigned to a community in Panama, where she will live and work for two years with the local people.”
McCarthy “liked having the freedom that [she] had” in Central America. Living abroad was a very different experience from living within the United States, and McCarthy welcomes the challenge.
However, there is, of course, what McCarthy describes as the “Central America learning curve.”
There is “definitely a learning curve in knowing how to live well, how to live in harmony with the land, eating the fruits that are in season, being comfortable taking public buses and speaking to people,” she said, adding that, “customs are different” in Central America, as compared to the United States.
McCarthy said that one must learn “how to behave and adapt” in new environments, and that adaptation was the most important skill in travel and learning to live in a foreign country.
McCarthy believes that her experiences with travel will help keep her open-minded and adaptable in Panama. She is looking forward to both teaching and learning in her two year stay in Central America. Voda said of Peace Corps volunteers, “[they] return from service as global citizens well-positioned for professional opportunities in today’s global job market.”
McCarthy is one of 150 New Jersey residents who are currently serving in the Peace Corps. She leaves for Panama on Feb. 24.
Marie Louise Leone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.