By Sarah Stubbs
The opportunities post-graduation are endless. After earning a bachelor’s degree, most twentysomethings go straight into the workforce while others decide to continue their education, pursuing more advanced degrees. What most twentysomethings don’t do, though, is dedicate two years of their young lives to service abroad.
Emilie Ehrman and Jackie Drake aren’t like most twentysomethings. Both 2016 UF alums were recently accepted into the Peace Corps and will be leaving the States to serve in 2017.
Ehrman will be teaching English to middle school or high school students in Myanmar and Drake will be serving in the community youth and development sector in Armenia.
When Ehrman was applying to the Peace Corps last spring, she was especially meticulous because she wanted nothing more than to be accepted.
“They say the application takes about an hour, but I took four hours because I was going back and rechecking everything. I was really nervous,” Ehrman said.
For Drake, the hardest part of the application process was playing the waiting game.
“I applied in May and was being considered for a position in Armenia. The application was not due until July. Then, I found out in August that I had an interview and five days after the interview I was given a position,” Drake said.
Both Ehrman and Drake were overjoyed to find out that they had been accepted and since then, both have been hard at work trying to prepare the best that they can for their unique service opportunities.
Ehrman’s service is especially unique because she is part of the first full-time Peace Corps group going to Myanmar. She will be leaving on Feb. 23, 2017 to begin her training. Ehrman will spend three months training in Yangon, and will then be sent to serve in a smaller community that will be about an hour away from this city.
In preparation for her service, Ehrman became certified to teach English and is now trying her best to learn Burmese through YouTube videos.
“I’ve been trying to teach myself Burmese. I’ve been reading ‘Fluent Forever’ by Gabriel Wyner. It’s all about methods to learning and retaining language,” Ehrman said.
Ehrman is also planning on taking a first aid and CPR class before she departs.
Drake is preparing similarly by also using YouTube to help her learn the language. She is additionally looking into taking an Armenian language class that is being offered at a church local to her in Cleveland.
Also local to her was a chance to truly get a taste for Armenia.
“I recently went to an Armenian Food Festival in Cleveland to get a feel of the culture and try the food,” Drake said.
Drake will depart just a few weeks after Ehrman will: March 18, 2017.
Where Drake has a slight advantage in preparation is access to the experiences of previous Armenian volunteers. She said that she has reached out to a few and is looking forward to asking them questions and learning about their experiences.
Due to the fact that she’s part of a brand-new Peace Corps group, and the recent political shift in Myanmar, research on the country and its culture have been a bit challenging for Ehrman.
“Any information you find is limited. Which is difficult when you’re trying to learn the culture,” Ehrman said.
Both young women know there is no way to fully prepare for an opportunity like service in the Peace Corps. What doesn’t take any research, though, is trusting in their unquestionable passions for service.
“Deciding to join the Peace Corps was the easiest and hardest decision of my life. I have always imagined myself living abroad working with children making a difference, but leaving my family and friends will be extremely hard,” Drake said.
Ehrman said she felt similarly and has been thinking about how when she returns to the United States after her service is done, her friends and loved-ones will be in totally different places in their lives and careers.
“I’m really excited for an opportunity like this. But in telling people about this, I’ve learned that it’s not as common and predictable. It’s kind of a revering task,” Ehrman said. “Young people are excited about it until I tell them it’s a two-year commitment. Older people can be hesitant to be supportive, but I think there’s a limited time in my life that I can do this. Not having babies, a spouse, a mortgage… now is the time,” Ehrman said.