Cultural riches are reward enough

For the next two years, Kristina Monroe, AB '97, will live below the U.S. poverty level in the most modest of housing. And she's looking forward to it.

Kristina Monroe poses with Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalyn, in Atlanta the night before she left for her assignment in South Africa in January
What many recent graduates might view as a hardship, Monroe has been dreaming about since her freshman year at Ohio University. That's when she heard firsthand about the adventures and challenges some 6,500 Peace Corps volunteers face every day in 90 countries around the globe.

Monroe's little corner of the world until April 2000 is a small village in South Africa, where she'll work with primary school teachers to improve their English instruction. Monroe, 23, and the 40 others in her group departed Jan. 19 and are assigned to different villages throughout the country's Northern Province.

They make up only the second wave of Peace Corps volunteers ever stationed in South Africa. The agency's work there began last year and followed a request by President Nelson Mandela for help with the post-apartheid social and economic challenges his country faced.

After three months of technical, language and cultural training, Monroe and the others will be expected to find housing in their villages.

"If anything, that's what I'm nervous about," says Monroe, of the Cincinnati suburb of West Chester. She will earn a stipend for food and housing equal to the wages of the average worker in her village. Sh e also is expected to initiate a local project -- such as starting a sports team, library or community garden -- after assessing what villagers need most.

Monroe says the education and experiences she gained at Ohio University laid a good foundation for her work with the Peace Corps. An international studies major, she tutored two students -- one from Korea and another from Japan -- through the Ohio Program of Intensive English. She also had a Japanese roommate in Bryan Hall and studied in Salzbu rg, Austria, for a quarter. She took four years of French classes and two years of German.

Monroe joins more than 500 OU students, faculty and staff who have served as Peace Corps volunteers since the 1960s. She hopes to pursue a master's degree in geography at the university when she returns to America and eventually find work in a field such as computer mapping.

- Mary Alice Casey

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