When graduate students Kristina Denison, Callie Bertsch and Michelle Cisz left the wooded hills of the Michigan Tech campus to serve as Peace Corps volunteers, they headed to countries that couldn’t be more diverse: Zambia, Bulgaria and Paraguay. But the lessons they learned in Michigan Tech’s Peace Corps Master’s International (PCMI) program were remarkably similar.
“I was going to Africa to change the world,” says Denison, who spent three years in Zambia, a landlocked little country in southern Africa, between Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. “I learned that you have to count the small steps, to be satisfied with planting a seed.”
Bertsch expected to bring “some great innovation” to the village of Gurmen in Bulgaria. But she soon realized she was having her greatest impact in a more subjective arena: people’s attitudes. “We’re so glad you came to live with us because you’re not at all like we thought Americans were,” the Bulgarian villagers kept telling her.
Halfway around the world, in the small South American country of Paraguay, Cisz was busy readjusting her expectations too. “I had big goals, but I had to take small steps,” she says. “It was a very humbling experience.”
All three women are working toward their Master of Science in Forest Ecology and Management. They wanted to travel, to serve and to learn by doing–the Michigan Tech way–so they joined a program that lets graduate students combine course work with volunteer service overseas in the Peace Corps. With eight PCMI programs in four different colleges and schools, Michigan Tech has more active Peace Corps volunteers than any other university in the nation.
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