In honor of the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps, the Career Center is sponsoring an exhibit at the Dining Hall, featuring alumni experiences with the organization. The college’s records indicate that approximately 40 alumni have volunteered over the years.
Each day, Dec. 12-16, news.hiram.edu will profile one alumni experience. Please continue to check back, and be sure to stop by the Dining Hall exhibit by Dec. 16 to learn even more.
Name: Chris Szell ‘92
Major at Hiram: Biology
Szell served in the Peace Corps shortly after graduating from Hiram College, from 1992-94. He taught science to students in Swaziland, a small country near South Africa.
Why did you decide to join the Peace Corps?
For Szell, the Peace Corps was a back-up plan – a back-up plan that he’s now glad he had the opportunity to take advantage of.
His original plan was to go to graduate school, but when his GRE scores weren’t high enough to guarantee an assistantship, he chose to follow his love of traveling, which started at Hiram with study abroad trips to Costa Rica and Shoals Marine Lab in Maine.
“Those experiences instilled in me that I wanted to be out doing something in the field, just gaining that more worldly perspective on people and cultures,” Szell said.
How did your service enhance your education and life?
After his service in the Peace Corps, Szell attended graduate school at the University of Southern Mississippi. He said it helped him build confidence in all areas of life; if he could live for two years in a foreign country, he could do anything.
“When any Peace Corps (volunteer) comes back, they go in different directions, but anything you do, you feel confident you can achieve it,” he said.
What are your most vivid memories?
Szell remembers the difference he was able to make in his students’ lives.
Although most of his students, who were about 12-18 years old, didn’t speak English at home, they were expected to speak it in school. English is also required for many jobs in Swaziland.
“So I get in there, all charged up to go and teach science,” Szell said. “I (went) through a full week of teaching, using these English words – scientific English words – and everyone’s quiet and listening.”
But he soon realized from the blank looks students gave him during a test, that they hadn’t understood a word he said that week. He then focused on teaching the students English through science, instead of the other way around. He found at the end of his two years of service that many of the younger students’ English skills had surpassed their older peers.
What advice would you share for a student considering the Peace Corps?
“I would 100 percent encourage people to do it,” he said. “You will not get the same experience anywhere else.”
Though the difference one person can make on a country as a whole in two years may be minimal, the impact on one person can be huge, he said.
“Our role as Peace Corps Volunteers is to foster peace and friendship,” he said. “And that’s the best you can hope for.”
To this day, Szell said he maintains friendships with fellow Peace Corps volunteers and Swaziland locals.