Growing up in suburban Iowa, Andrea Weires ’19 said she could not recognize the people she lived next to for over a decade.
Despite being there for less than two years, the community she serves in for the Peace Corps in northwestern Dominican Republic is vibrant and full of welcoming faces.
“In my Peace Corps site, people know, care about, and take care of their families and neighbors—which is often the same people,” Weires said. “The solidarity and care for community here is really inspiring.”
Weires said a fellow former Wesleyan student told her to always smile at everyone she sees. She’s taken the idea and run with it, making it a point to stay positive even through difficult moments and begin every new interaction with a smile. She said it has helped her start each new relationship in her service area on the right note.
Weires and former Peace Corps volunteer Ameen Beydoun ’11 spoke with students at a Peace Corps informational session with current students during Wesleyan’s Power of Language Week on Feb. 22. Both Beydoun and Weires joined host Anita Deeg-Carlin, Associate Director of Intercultural Learning in the Fries Center for Global Studies, and a Peace Corps recruiter to discuss their service experiences and to encourage students to consider the Peace Corps after graduation.
Deeg-Carlin, who was a Peace Corps volunteer in Madagascar from 1997 to 2000, said volunteers have a unique immersion experience. Other development workers from other countries drove large white Jeeps speaking French or English, she said the Peace Corps volunteers used bicycles and spoke the language of their service area.
“You are so thoroughly grounded in that new lifestyle. You can’t learn that in a book, you can’t learn that by traveling or visiting,” Deeg-Carlin said. “You really become a part of that community. That education is something that you can not get anywhere else.”
The nature of Beydoun’s and Weires’ work in education gave them each a hands-on and personal experience in each of their services.
Beydoun, an English and mathematics teacher while in Liberia from 2012 to 2014, set up a library in a remote village in which he was serving. He said it acted as an after-school program where students were free to come ask questions on difficult assignments, play chess, and chat.
It was a positive space that allowed him to get to know the students on a more personal level, he said. He was able to take two students in the chess club he started to a tournament in the nation’s capital.
He called the library the most important project he worked on in his time in Liberia.
Beydoun also spent another year in the Peace Corps in the Comoros—one of a group of three islands nestled between mainland Africa and Madagascar—where he helped to set up infrastructure, teach English and business literacy.
Since leaving the Peace Corps, Beydoun has worked in multiple foreign nations. He went back to school to study international development and earned an MBA at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey in California. He then spent time in Senegal researching a business plan before moving to Nairobi, Kenya to work at a coding bootcamp as a project manager.
Once the COVID-19 pandemic hit, he moved back to the United States and returned to writing. He has since published two illustrated children’s books and is working on a novel that will be released in the coming months, he said.
Weires spent seven months in the Dominican Republic working as a literacy teacher before her experience was halted by the pandemic in March 2020. She was unable to return to the island nation for two full years.
When cleared to return, she was the first Peace Corps volunteer to be sworn into service in the Western Hemisphere following the pandemic, she said. She was invited to go to the White House to meet First Lady Jill Biden alongside the new cohorts and other returning volunteers. There were just two volunteers returning to the Dominican Republic, after more than 150 had served there pre-pandemic, she said. Five others also returned to service in Zambia.
Weires dearly missed her service area when she was evacuated. She said she returned “because I love my job and I just love this place. I think it’s a really incredible and unique place to live.”
Now that she’s back, she spends her days tutoring students, working with teachers and doing home visits with families to help them creatively reinforce literacy practice outside of class.
“Everything here is interesting and new… I’m always learning things, meeting new people, and continuing to expand my perspectives and knowledge,” she said.
She now has four months left in her service before she must consider her future. She hopes to find a way to continue to live and work abroad in a responsible, equitable way.