The Austin College Impact: Study Abroad and Service
by Jake Pritchard ’10
My name is Jake Pritchard. I live on less than five dollars a day and do not own a television, washing machine, or a refrigerator. To avoid malaria and dengue, I sleep under a mosquito net. I get by on about three gallons of water per day. For two years now, I have lived in a town that you have never heard of and probably can’t even pronounce. I am a Peace Corps Volunteer in Muelle de los Bueyes, Nicaragua, and I would not trade this experience for the world.
Many may think that the only things that Peace Corps Volunteers do is grow beards and dig ditches. The truth is that today’s Peace Corps functions in vital emerging fields such as business development and informational technology. As the world has become more creative and high tech, so has life in the Peace Corps.
As a Small Business Development Volunteer in Nicaragua, my primary role is to train high school teachers in my community to teach an entrepreneurship course. On a larger scale, I am part of a team that works in coordination with the Ministry of Education to implement the entrepreneurship initiative for around 18,000 high school students nationwide. As part of the project, we use Twitter and Facebook to engage Nicaraguans and promote the program. The curriculum devotes entire classes to creativity and highlights “utilizing local resources” as well as “ways to improve quality of life” as tools for idea generation. For high school seniors, the course is two semesters long and concludes with the opportunity to present their very own small enterprise in a series of business plan competitions.
The global outlook and the emphasis on service at Austin College had an enormous impact on my decision to join the Peace Corps. In fact, the first time I left the U.S. was my sophomore year at Austin College on a Jan Term to Costa Rica, in which our course consisted of Spanish language and culture classes. That trip inspired me so much that since graduating in 2010, I have been to over a dozen countries and been engulfed in a global mindset. In 2010, Austin College ranked as the top school in the nation for international study participation by the Institute of International Education.
My four years at Austin College not only inspired my pursuit of global agility but also provided me with numerous service opportunities. As a member of the Austin College football team and Phi Sigma Alpha, I found it important to get involved on campus and in the community. Supporting the Denison Boys and Girls Club, handing out Halloween candy at ’Roo Boo, and playing guitar at charity concerts all come to mind as great service events that I took part in. At the time I didn’t realize that I would later dedicate more than two years of my life to service and the potential for personal and professional growth that comes with that.
Giving back is such an amazing thing. By donating your time and skillset, you may completely change someone’s life, or you may completely change your own. As I approach the last few months of my service, I have a lot to look forward to. Although I can’t say for sure what I will be doing in the future, it is reassuring to see that with the rise of social enterprises, companies are receiving serious credit for standing up for social change. The idea that a business should provide a solution to a problem may seem like Business 101, but if you embody that idea and put it into practice against some of society’s toughest problems, success and change are inevitable. I have my Peace Corps experience to thank for that insight.
So get involved with service projects, and go study abroad. Maybe one day you will wake up underneath your mosquito net and think back to the reasons why you joined the Peace Corps.
The content of this column expresses the perspectives of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views, position, or policy of Austin College, its administrators, or its Board of Trustees; the U.S. government; or the Peace Corps.