The Peace Corps today

Skype, email, blogging keep volunteers closer to home

Peace Corps volunteer Eliza Swedenborg and her host sister, Amie, at her host family's compound in Mali.

When Bob Hoyle served with the Peace Corps in the Philippines in the early 1960s, he never once was able to telephone home to Minnesota. For news, he and his fellow volunteers passed dog-eared copies of Time Magazine from hand-to-hand and relied on personal letters to fill in the gaps.

Some things couldn’t be more different for 24-year-old Como Park Senior High School graduate Eliza Swedenborg, who has been a Peace Corps volunteer in the African nation of Mali for a little more than a year. She uses email and Skype to stay in touch with friends and relatives. Those wanting more information are invited to follow her experiences on the blog she regularly updates.

In other ways, though, Swedenborg’s Peace Corps experience would be instantly recognizable to veteran volunteers. Like Hoyle, she joined the Peace Corps soon after graduating from college (Gustavus Adolphus in 2009) and she quickly encountered the challenges of a new culture.

“Mali can be extremely hot,” she says, “and as a girl born and raised in Minnesota, I still feel I am not supposed to live in these conditions. However, [I] learned fairly quickly to cope with the climate and the food—and squat toilets. This is possible in part because Mali culture is welcoming, friendly and easy-going.”

Swedenborg says that her exposure to Mali society has also taught her something about her own country. “I have never been a fan of the culture of consumption in America,” she reports. “On the other hand, there are things about America in which I have a renewed pride: our creativity, . . . our freedom, our efficiency, our education system and our relatively functional democracy.”

Finally, like Hoyle, she’s confident that the relationships she is building as a volunteer will stay with her for life. “I’d say that the projects we are doing are actually less meaningful than the relationships we build,” she notes. “I don’t think I will ever lose my connection to this country, or my desire to make the lives of my friends and [host] family here easier.”

If you want to learn more about Eliza Swedenborg’s life as a Peace Corps volunteer, check out her blog:

Judy Woodward is a reference librarian at Roseville Library and a regular contributor to the Park Bugle.

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