Name: Lindsey Leslie
Hometown: Long Island, NY
Current Location: Chinandega, Nicaragua
Year: Class of 2010
Majors- Public Health Studies & Anthropology Double Major
¡Hola! ¿Cómo le va? ¿Entonces…? Ok, that’s enough Spanish for now. I’m writing from my new home, Nicaragua, affectionately known as the land of Lakes and Volcanoes.
Sometime during my senior spring semester at Hopkins I finally decided to hit submit on my application to the U.S. Peace Corps. I knew I wanted time off before continuing with graduate school or attempting to enter the job market. The Peace Corps seemed like a fantastic way to gain exposure to international health issues, help make the world a better place, learn a second language, deeply appreciate a culture, meet like-minded people, travel, and much more. It’s actually a really exciting time to be apart of the Peace Corps Network: We are celebrating 50 years of service as an organization AND Peace Corps Nicaragua is celebrating 30 years of service in country!
(To learn more about the Peace Corps, click HERE)
I first became interested in Peace Corps service in August 2007, the summer after my freshman year. I went on a service trip to Tanzania with a public health group from Hopkins and during the 3 weeks our group was there we were able to talk with a local PCV (peace corps volunteer). I admired the work he was doing and started to research the program.
An old slogan for the Peace Corps is “The hardest job you’ll ever love”. But just how does one “prepare” for Peace Corps Service? Well, the easy answer is that you just can’t. Largely because there is no one typical Peace Corps experience. Knowing this, a better response to the preparation question answer is that simply by living your life and gaining a variety of different experiences, you’ll be able to share, give, contribute, and help develop whatever community you’re assigned in to work.
That being said, I was VERY involved in campus/community life during my time at Hopkins. I had a plethora of extracurricular activities that allowed me to work in all different capacities and areas, meet awesome JHU staff and students, and learn a lot about my strengths as a leader. Some of the organizations that were the most rewarding include: Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., The JHU Black Student Union (BSU), JHU Public Health Brigades and working with the Public Health Studies Department (PHS Studies), working as a Research Assistant for the Bloomberg School of Public Health (JHSPH), JHU Senior Leadership Consultants (SLC), The Woodrow Wilson Undergraduate Research Fellowship, and various committees/teams with the JHU Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA).
During those 4 years I was able to spend some time inside classrooms as well! Hopkins provided me with a world-class education, especially in the field of Public Health. I thank my lucky stars everyday that I decided to go to Hopkins. My undergraduate experiences have significantly contributed to the opportunities I have had to date, as well as my thoughts on my future career. I intend to return to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health for a Masters degree post-Peace Corps. Ultimately, I want to develop and implement health programming for organizations on an international level.
Fast forward to my senior year, Fall 2009. I started filling out the application, gathering the necessary materials, and doing informal interviews with Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs). As you can imagine, there were plenty of RPCVs in the Hopkins network. All were able to give me sage advice, funny stories, and bits of wisdom from their 2 years of service. One day, after months of struggling to decide if I had the guts to actually apply to the Peace Corps, I finally sent in the application- that was Feb 13, 2010.
Applying to the Peace Corps usually takes between 9-12 months depending on a variety of factors. There were people in my training group whose application process was as long as 2 years! At this point in my Peace Corps service, I’ve just completed the requisite 3 months of technical/language (Spanish) training and have been only recently moved to my volunteer site. I’ve literally been waiting for this since submitting my Peace Corps application. After all that, I’m finally in my volunteer site starting to work on my service projects!
Here is a timeline of my application process…
Submitted Application- February 13, 2010
Interview/Nomination (HEALTH DEGREE, CENTRAL/SOUTH AMERICA or CARIBBEAN, AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2010)- March 31, 2010
Received Medical Packet- April 2, 2010
Legal Clearance- April 2, 2010
Submitted Medical Packet- April 30, 2010
Application Placed on Medical Hold- June 9, 2010
Medical Hold Taken Off- June 17, 2010
Sent All Requested Updates Medical Materials- June 18, 2010
Dentally Clear- June 18, 2010
Medically Clear- June 26, 2010
Sent Updated Information- (Resume/ Transcript)- June 28, 2010
Re-Nominated (HEALTH DEGREE, CENTRAL/SOUTH AMERICA, EARLY 2011)- September 15, 2010
Sent More Updated Information- September 20, 2010
Finally Received Invitation!!! – September 21, 2010
Staging (Orientation)- January 11, 2011
Depart for Nicaragua- January 14, 2011
PROGRAM- Maternal and Child Health Promotion- MCH 55
JOB TITLE- Community Health Promoter
IN COUNTRY DATES- January 11, 2011- March 29, 2013
My experience in country so far as been nothing short of AMAZING! Nicaragua is such a gorgeous place and I hope to visit other parts of the country during my 2 years! The people of Nicaragua are incredibly generous with their time, kindness, and opinions. I’m learning to platicar (chat) and laugh at Nica jokes while exchanging stories about family, my life, the states, travel I’ve done, and other topics. In fact, my Spanish is improving daily, although sometimes I still feel like I’m not able to express myself in either language- English or Spanish. During training, I bonded with my host family, gave health charlas (mini-lectures) at the local health center, visited a volcano, went swimming at a local beach and the river, worked with a local womans group, and created a mini-health encuesta (survey). Also, after trying gallo pinto, cuajada, arroz china, cacao, abena, flor de Jamaica, nacatamales, pescazon, quesillo and many other delicious foods I can’t wait to learn how to make all sorts of typical Nicaraguan dishes and frescos (drinks)!
I now live in the ring of fire. There is a trail of other volcanoes that cuts through the middle of the region where my site is location. AND the largest volcano in Nicaragua, San Cristobal, is located in this department. My site, Chinandega, is a city- in fact its the 3rd largest in Nicaragua with about 300, 000 people living in the city and its barrios. It’s the capital of the Chinandega department (similar to a state). My site is about 130km from the capital, which means I’m about 2.5 hours NW of Managua by bus. The city is about 70 meters above sea level and the climate is hot, actually VERY HOT during most of the year-Think high 90s/100s in Fahrenheit or high 30s/40s in Celsius. Some people say its the hottest place in all of Nicaragua, maybe even Central America. BUT, it gets better – I’m about 17km from the Pacific Coast- aka 10 miles from the beach!
Since my site is a big city I have more than my share of creature comforts: electricity, running water, restaurants, corner stores, markets, banks, Post Office, Internet, and cell phone service. I have some mixed feelings on this. Yes, its great to have all these amenities, but its a different type of Peace Corps Service than I imagined I would have.
Most of all, I’m excited about getting to down to work in Chinanadega. Most of the work I will do in Chinandega will involve reducing rates of maternal and child mortality and improving local knowledge and habits related to nutrition. Here are some of the primary health concerns in my site:
Acute Respiratory Infections
Acute Diarrheal Illnesses
As I’ve just started, it is hard to describe the type of work I’ll be doing in my community. “Work” for me might mean encouraging and teaching mothers how to breastfeed, giving charlas to woman on family planning or general nutrition, coordinating HIV testing or doing yoga with the pregnant ladies at my local Casa Materna (birthing house), going door-to-door in a community vaccination campaign, assisting with a leadership course for sex workers or networking with NGOs to develop new projects for the youth of Chinandega. I have a few ideas on projects I could potentially start in site, but the first couple months in site I plan on trying to observe everyday life in my site, integrate into the community, and form meaningful relationships with people in my site and the health centers where I work. After all, 2 out of the 3 main goals of the Peace Corps relate to relationship building and cultural exchange.
If I have any advice to give, it would be to do what excites you and make a career out of what you are passionate about. Admittedly, this is easier said than done. It might take some time to find out what sparks the flame in you. However, once you feel it’s been ignited, fuel that passion by taking the classes that challenge you and getting involved in the activities that help to develop your interests. After graduation, make a career out of something you truly enjoy doing everyday. That’s exactly what I plan on doing with my life. ¡Buena Suerte!
Interested in following my Peace Corps Service? I’m keeping a blog about my experiences in Nicaragua: www.LTLaroundtheworld.blogspot.com