About 1,000 WSU alumni have served as Peace Corps volunteers since the 1960s. Here are just a few of their stories.
Tanzania, 2012 to 2014
Zoë Campbell studied in Madagascar during college, earning a degree in biology. “I always wanted to be Jane Goodall,” she says.
She graduated in spring 2009, near the official end of the Great Recession, and wasn’t finding work she was completely passionate about. So, “It seemed like a good time to go and have a bit of an adventure.”
Her dad did Peace Corps as a young man, teaching English in West Africa, and she was intrigued by the program—and the opposite side of the continent. “I keep getting drawn back to East Africa,” says Campbell, who taught environmental science to fifth-graders in the village of Mshewe in Mbeya region of Tanzania’s Southern Highlands.
“It’s not everybody’s cup of tea,” says Campbell (’19 PhD Interdis.). But, “travel can be quite a game-changer. For me, it led directly—no doubt about it—to getting a PhD” Plus, she notes, “I speak Swahili really well.”
One of the biggest challenges was “that it can be very isolating. Until you learn better language skills you can’t really communicate with people. It’s not always clear what to do, and it can be lonely.” She found love—and wrote a book about it, Labor of Love: A Guide to Intercultural Dating.
She’s also returned to Tanzania several times since her Peace Corps experience to work on her individual interdisciplinary doctoral degree in global animal health, sociology, and economics. Campbell started her doctoral program in 2015 and worked as a postdoctoral researcher at the Allen School for Global Animal Health at WSU Pullman before taking a position at the International Livestock Research Institute in Nairobi, Kenya.
Morocco, 2008 to 2010
“Peace Corps is about giving people skills to help themselves, not doing things for them. It’s about transferable skills,” says Anjie Bertramson, who served as a small business development volunteer in Ait Idir, a village of about 1,400 people in the High Atlas Mountains, where the indigenous Amazigh people she worked with have their own culture and language. “It was pretty remote,” says Bertramson, who traveled to the city of Boumalne Dades every four to six weeks to get mail and see other volunteers.
She was the only Peace Corps volunteer in her village and mainly worked with a group of women weavers. One of her projects was teaming up with other volunteers to host two workshops—one on natural dye, another on a particular weaving technique—with about 35 women from three villages. She also helped bring a doctor to the village for health screenings as well as organize a dental hygiene clinic.
After returning to the United States, Bertramson (’07 Int. Bus.) went to work for WSU Pullman in the Office of International Programs for six years, then in pharmacotherapy at WSU Spokane in early 2018. Her grandfather, Bertram Rodney “Rod” Bertramson, was chair of the Agronomy Department from 1949 to 1967, when he was appointed director of resident instruction of the College of Agriculture, a position he held until his retirement in 1979. (Coincidentally, he also did some work in Morocco with USAID. “Funny the connections we find!” Bertramson says.) Her parents—Jim and Jane—also both graduated from WSU; he in 1975, she in 2008 after raising a family.
“Peace Corps really encourages you to get to know the language (of your host country) and get to know the community,” she says. “You find the commonalities you share as humans, and you learn there’s not a wrong way or a right way.”
Niger, 1995 to 1997
By college, Denise (Foy) Bausch (’94 Nat. Res. Mgmt.) knew she wanted to be a park ranger. She didn’t know Peace Corps might help launch her career.
“It was a fluke,” says Bausch, chief of interpretation and education at Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area and the Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail. “I saw brochures for Peace Corps on a table in Johnson Hall. One of them happened to be on parks administration. I thought Peace Corps was about nutrition and health; I didn’t know they were working in parks. Kind of on a whim, I decided to apply.”
She worked in a national park in Niger—surveying large mammals, renovating a one-room museum, and developing tourism. She also served as a wildlife biologist, conducting migratory bird surveys on the Niger River with a leaky wooden boat. “I’d count birds on the way up river and occasionally bail. On the way back, I would sit in the bottom of the boat and stuff cotton in the cracks. Never sank.”
Bausch lived about three kilometers from the dirt road where she could catch a ride to the capital, about a twelve-hour trip. “My very first bush taxi—when I was still in training—there were sheep in the car,” she says. “You learn to adapt. You absorb it. I learned so much about who I was as a person. There were no TVs, no running water, no electricity, no telephones. I learned how to survive. I learned more empathy. I learned tolerance.”
Marshall Islands, 1989 to 1991
When Diane Kelly-Riley received her Peace Corps placement, she had “no idea where” the Marshall Islands were. “I couldn’t Google it. I had to look on a map. I went and got a globe and tried to find them.”
The long-running TV advertisements describing the program as “The Toughest Job You’ll Ever Love” really resonated with her, so she applied. Two weeks after graduating from a small, private liberal arts college in Iowa with a degree in English, she left for her assignment on Mejit Island, home to about 350 people. The entire island doesn’t quite encompass a full square mile.
Kelly-Riley lived in a thatched hut with no electricity or running water and slept on a mat on the floor. Her diet was mostly coconut, rice, and fish—including flying fish and tuna which the men of the island caught spear-fishing at night or by using traditional, hand-carved canoes. She taught English to teachers and organized exercise classes on the island’s airstrip, doing Jane Fonda’s workout. But, mostly, she taught eighth grade, helping students prepare for a high-stakes English exam. If they passed, they went on to high school and economic opportunity. If they didn’t, they continued subsistence living on their remote outer island.
“It really left an imprint on my life in a pretty significant way,” says Kelly-Riley (’95 MA Eng. Lit., ’06 PhD Ed. Psych.). She worked at WSU from 1996 to 2013, serving as co-director of the WSU Writing Program and director of the Writing Assessment Program. Now, she’s an associate professor of English and associate dean for research and faculty affairs at the University of Idaho. She also edits the Journal of Writing Assessment.
“I learned so much about how people view the world so differently and there’s a lot of different ways to live,” she says. “It helped me be open to opportunity. It made me more of an educated and concerned citizen. And it set my career path. All of my career has really focused on trying to make fairer and better writing assessments.”
Read about Annalise Miller’s experiences with the Peace Corps in Namibia.
Were you a Peace Corps volunteer? Tell us your story.