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Profile: Vivian Colon

Turkmenistan

Having been born in Puerto Rico, I thought I wanted to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Latin America. But the Peace Corps no longer has English language programs there. As it turns out, I was happy that I was invited to Turkmenistan, a former Soviet Republic in Central Asia. I would never have known anything about this region if I had not been placed here.

What attracted me to the Peace Corps was a romantic view of adventure. I ended up becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer in part because of my mother. She was always telling us to push ourselves, keep on reaching. So I wanted to do something more than just finish school and go to work. This was a phenomenal opportunity to go somewhere completely different and do something for other people. As an anthropology major, I love learning about different cultures and diversity. It is just fascinating to me.

My primary job is to teach English to high school students. They know Russian and Turkmen, but if they learn English, that can help open up their economy. I share a house with a Turkmen family: a mother, father, grandmother, and six siblings. Having lived in the suburbs all my life, it’s so different for me to live on a farm with a camel, cows, sheep, ducks, and chickens. I am also not used to such a large family, but it’s nice to have all these people together, helping each other.

I would like to see more people of color in the Peace Corps. I think more of us do not join because we are so community oriented. In my opinion, many Hispanics think: “Why should we go across the world to help some other people we don’t even know about when people need help within our own community?” I say go out and experience the world. Then come back and do what you want to do in your community. You will be much better prepared to bring about change than if you never left home. I am learning so much. Barriers in the States seem much smaller after challenges you face overseas. When I go back, I will have so many options — maybe I will join the Foreign Service, maybe I will teach, or work at the World Bank. I can branch out in so many ways.

There are just so many things in my future now that I didn’t see when I left school. You go to college to broaden your horizons, right? But I didn’t feel that I had done that in school. I know I am now.

Vivian Colon (Turkmenistan)

Vivian, who is Puerto Rican American, was interviewed for "Diversity in the Peace Corps" in 1999. She has a B.A. in Anthropology and is originally from Half Moon Bay, California.

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