IROnline Alumni Profile: Rebecca Zemek

Meet Rebecca, an International Relations Online student and former Peace Corps volunteer now living in Oman, who exemplifies the strong desire of our students to serve the international community.

Current Location: Muscat, Oman

“American University has furthered my intercultural understanding through Dr. Weaver’s wonderful intercultural communication course. After taking that course, I often told my returning Peace Corps volunteer (RPCV) friends that every RPCV should have to take that course.”

 

Many graduates from American University’s School of International Service choose to serve the international community through the Peace Corps. As of 2016, 43 AU alumni are currently serving as Peace Corps volunteers. According to Peace Corps rankings, this is second-highest number among medium-sized colleges and universities.

Where and when did you serve as a Peace Corps volunteer?

Azerbaijan, 2009–2011

What was the type of assignment you were on?

I served as a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) volunteer, teaching English in a local public school, training teachers, and developing extracurricular clubs and activities.

While serving as a volunteer with the Peace Corps, what intercultural skills and knowledge did you acquire that have helped with your career?

This question would take ages to answer in full. I will give a short example to save you all from reading an essay! Serving in the Peace Corps gave me more patience than I ever could have imagined. When living and working in a culture that is drastically different from your own, it is easy to get frustrated and angry at the way people do things differently or the methods they use that seem inefficient. It takes a lot of patience and insight to be able to stop and appreciate what you are seeing and experiencing and to understand the cultural subtleties. It is also difficult to accept that your way is not always the best way. This patience is learned on a professional level when you cannot get people to confirm they will be attending a meeting because “inshallah” is the appropriate response. It is learned on a personal level when everyone and their grandmother tells you how fat or skinny you have gotten and how much more beautiful you would be if you were fatter or skinnier. It is learned on a social level when the catcalls never stop, even after two years. Your patience is greatly rewarded by genuine friendships, deep connections, and memories that change you and last forever. 

How has International Relations Online further developed the skills and knowledge you acquired while serving with the Peace Corps?

Thus far, American University has furthered my intercultural understanding through Dr. Weaver’s wonderful intercultural communication course. After taking that course, I often told my returning Peace Corps volunteer (RPCV) friends that every RPCV should have to take that course. It puts a name to all the emotions one goes through while serving in the Peace Corps and when coming home. It was an incredibly informative class, and it also served to give some closure on the breadth of experiences and emotions one goes through when moving in and out of different cultures.

This is just one short example, and I am sure my continued studies with International Relations Online with American University will further the skills and knowledge I acquired in the Peace Corps and assist me in my future career endeavors.


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