Peace Corps Volunteers must be open to ideas and cultures different from their own and may need to modify their appearance or behavior appropriately. Give an example (between 250-500 words) of a significant experience that illustrates your ability to adapt in an unfamiliar environment. Please highlight the skills you used and the perspectives you gained. You may draw from experiences in your work, school, or community in the U.S. or abroad. Please list the date(s) of your experience.
While receiving my college degree on stage in June 2009, I was overwhelmed by a dichotomy of emotions. Proud of my accomplishments, I felt ready to take on new challenges. A graduate in Communication and Diversity in Higher Education, I have worked in community non-profit settings, and supported ethnic minority students as the Western Washington University Associated Students Vice President for Diversity. In congruence with growing up in a first-generation, multi-racial household, I was confident in my cultural competency skills. However, I wanted the opportunity to challenge myself in an unfamiliar environment. In November 2009, I said goodbye to my friends and family, and relocated to Boston, Massachusetts.
With no job, no social network, or even familiarity with the area, I was definitely a fish out of water. By March 2010, I secured job at Fenway Health, the largest LGBT community health center in the country. As a Staff Assistant for The Fenway Institute, the HIV/AIDS prevention research division, I worked directly with participants in a behavioral and clinical research setting. Though I was a longtime LGBT advocate, this was a definitely new experience for me. I did not have a very high proficiency working with HIV/AIDS positive individuals, and was in the minority in regard to sexual orientation and gender in the workplace. Of nearly one thousand employees, approximately seventy percent identified as gay, white males. Rather than shy away from the situation, however, I saw it as an opportunity to expand my cultural competency and become a better ally.
I began by educating myself about the origins of HIV/AIDS prevention, and doing research on those affected. Incorporating my experience working with ethnic minority students, I developed a strong connection to Project SOS, a behavioral study aimed at HIV/AIDS prevention in African-American males. I also spent time familiarizing myself with the local LGBT community, as well as the prevalent challenges they faced, by socializing with my co-workers and assisting with research participant outreach at local gay bars and nightclubs. The more I learned, the more confident I felt in my ability to assist in making Fenway Health a safe space. Over time, my interactions with patients and research study participants evolved into more caring and trusting relationships. I even got the opportunity to mentor Pedro, a youth in the LGBT community, as he began his journey through the hormone therapy process. My relationships with co-workers also began to blossom, and I was affectionately embraced as a member of the “Fenway Family.”
I came to Boston for a challenge, and that is exactly what I got. Working at Fenway Health was initially overwhelming, but being vulnerable to sharing knowledge and experiences allowed me to adapt and contribute to this new cultural environment. This invaluable experience has instilled in me the confidence to reach out to a world outside of my studies, personal identities, and community. I will channel this positive approach throughout my ventures as a Peace Corps volunteer.