“So, Why East Africa? What convinced you that this was a part of the world that you needed to understand more about?”
Rheanne smiled, and with eloquence and reflective poise, she began to tell her story.
“In a sense Africa seems unattainable and peripheral to many, and I wanted to take that challenge. I wanted to prove that the stock image of ‘Africa’ is not at all similar to its reality, and I want to do so by exposing myself to the array of cultures and people represented within the continent.”
Coming from a small town in Illinois, Rheanne was always determined to expand what she knew; beyond the endless corn fields, and far beyond the intimate community she had become acclimated to in her youth. Although she appreciated where she had grown up and who she had become as a result of her childhood, Rheanne felt herself craving more from the world, especially through higher education, and even greater opportunity. Thus, Rheanne became aware of the Peace Corps.
“I’ve wanted to join the Peace Corps since I was in middle school. My mom mentioned it and how amazing she thought it was, and the idea just kind of stuck.”
Choosing Swahili as her language of focus at MSU became her first leap of faith into an overwhelmingly, yet beautiful textile of people, cultures, and ethnic backgrounds; “I did not know what part of Africa I wanted to go to until I did some research and found that Swahili was in the top five languages spoken… Mwalimu Deo [Rheanne’s Professor] kept me motivated and determined because of his Tanzanian roots and enthusiasm. He always spoke with passion and love about where he was from, but also spoke with honesty about the difference between the US and East Africa. He is the reason I continue to study this language.”
As she made greater commitments in her education, through international relations and Peace & Justice studies, Rheanne was knowingly paving her way toward a dream that started in middle school. Now, as a rising senior, Rheanne has begun her process of applying to grad schools for Peace Corps programs, hoping that her background in Swahili and current volunteering experience at the Lansing Refugee Development Center will set her apart among the applicants.
“I’ve always believed that compassion and empathy are two of the most important things in life, and that the world needs more of both. Being able to live and grow with that notion for two years during my service (in the Peace Corps), while also furthering my education, just seems like a perfect fit.”
It all began with a dream for Rheanne, now transforming into a future full of endless opportunity and possibility.
– Story by Kristen Gmerek