Sharing my Peace Corps experience with military kids overseas

By Keli Johnston
March 5, 2018

I think any one of us would be excited to visit family and friends over the holidays.

Keli Johnston is a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Philippines.
Keli Johnston is a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Philippines.

For me, visiting my relatives overseas was great but the experience that topped my trip was conducting the Third Goal, hands down (actually my hands were up a lot because that’s what they do when I talk… but you know what I mean). 

When I first learned about the Third Goal opportunity, I initially thought, “Oh, Keli, you can go back to your former workplaces in Florida and share your experience with students there!” That would have been a fine idea if I were planning to go back to the U.S for the holidays; instead, I was planning on visiting my dad and brother in Okinawa, Japan. 

Then, eureka! I realized I could talk to the students that attend the schools where I grew up! 

There is a massive group of overlooked American students that I could have special access to—the children of military families stationed overseas. Could you imagine how bright that light bulb turned on? It was blinding! Students who grow up overseas do not have the same access to career fairs and guest speakers as students do stateside—this felt like a calling. I was going to share with them what my life in the Philippines had been like thus far and how much spice the Peace Corps had poured into my life!   

Keli shared her Peace Corps experience at two schools in Okinawa, Japan.
Keli shared her Peace Corps experience at two schools in Okinawa, Japan.

I spoke at two different schools—a high school (the rival of my alma mater) and my formerly attended middle school. Both talks went over really well. The high schoolers asked great questions like whether or not my ‘Why’ had changed during service, what is it like to live with a non-American family and one of my favorites, “Is it hard being an adult and not be paid?” Just authentic and honest questions about my time at site. 

At the middle school, my audience was composed of sixth to eighth grade AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) students for the morning and afternoon. Some were even Filipino and shared their own experiences in comparison to mine! 

As pleasant as this sharing time was, nothing prepared them (nor even my dad, who attended these talks) for what I had to share about the unique and deeply rooted culture of Ifugao, Philippines. Students were so engaged and the chatter among the audience during my display of pictures taken at my first bogwa was a sign of their excitement. I mean, how many times have you been able to share what it was like being handed a live chicken as a “thank you” for attending a family function? 

Students definitely had their share of questions to ask as well. The question I was most touched by came from a student who now wants to have a similar life experience: “I’m only in the 7th grade, but do you think Peace Corps will be around so I can do what you do after I go to college?” 

Sometimes when we are at site, we find ourselves naturally wondering whether or not our 'why's are still the same. For me, sharing the Peace Corps experience to these overlooked students allowed me to share something really unique. What I wasn’t expecting in return was for their participation during our time together offered me something in return—a new ‘why.'

Keli Johnston

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