Alumni accepts Peace Corps invitation

GVL / Courtesy Adam Polnik

GVL / Courtesy Adam Polnik

Keith Eichholz

Adam Polnik, an alumnus of Grand Valley State University, has accepted his invitation to the Peace Corps and will head to Timor-Leste on Aug. 25.

Upon graduating with a marketing degree in 2013, Polnik moved to Chicago, about an hour away from his hometown of Joliet, Ill.

But he’s about to be a lot farther from home than that – roughly 9,000 miles. Timor-Leste is located on the far east side of Southern Asia, between Indonesia and Australia.

Polnik credits GVSU for impacting him in such a strong way.

“I really thought about (joining the Peace Corps) in my junior year at college after studying abroad in Australia,” Polnik said. “I loved living abroad and meeting new people. You learn so much from other cultures. That was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I would recommend anyone at Grand Valley to study abroad.”

GVSU’s Make A Difference Day also had a strong impact on Polnik’s desire to help people.

“I did that every year and it was really fun,” he said. “You didn’t know what you were going to do, where you were going to go. You just signed up for the day, they sent you off to a place in Grand Rapids and you just helped people. Whether it was painting walls in a gym or pulling weeds or helping with landscape, you got to help the community.”

Polnik said he is excited about the prospects of meeting new people and sees its importance.

“When you’re young, you’re taught stranger danger, but that’s not really the case when you’re older,” Polnik said. “You have to learn to talk to strangers because that’s how you meet new people.”

For Polnik, the timing has never been better.

“I’m at the age where soon I might have family,” said Polnik, 25. “Right now, I have nothing to tie me down, so why not?”

Besides GVSU, Polnik points to his family as instrumental in his decision.

When Polnik was 12, his grandfather told him when he was drafted, he should join the Navy because they eat better than the Army.

“I’ve always wanted to serve my country in a way because he would always say that to me,” Polnik said.

Although Polnik never had to deal with a draft, he didn’t need it to find a way to serve his country.

“I figured the best way to serve my country if I didn’t want to do the military was the Peace Corps.”

As members of the Peace Corps, Polnik and his group of 23 will be the first back to Timor-Leste since 2006 and will focus on economic and community development, including sanitation, hygiene, how to grow a business and developing youth into leaders.

He will work at sites lacking running water and without the best of electricity. But that doesn’t dampen Polnik’s spirits.

“I’m most excited about being the first group back in 10 years,” Polnik said. “We’re the founders of how the Peace Corps’ relationship with Timor is going to be established and how the different sites work. It’s going to be really fun to be the pioneer group.”

Once Polnik gets there, he knows that he won’t get many days off during his 27-month stay.

“When you’re in the Peace Corps, 24/7 you’re working because anything you say or do is under a microscope,” he said. “You’re almost like a celebrity.”

The second part of the mission is to educate Timor-Leste about the U.S. and its goal to achieve peace, Polnik said.

Besides educating Timor-Leste, he hopes his actions will teach them even more.

“We actually think about more than just ourselves,” Polnik said. “We think about the world and the prosperity of everyone.”

When he returns in 2017, Polnik hopes to complete his mission by educating Americans about Timor-Leste.

When he returns, he will be eligible for the Paul D. Coverdell Fellows Program, a graduate fellowship program that offers financial assistance to returned Peace Corps volunteers.

“You can get a scholarship,” Polnik said. “A lot of schools will even give you a full-ride.”

Polnik also said he hopes someday to employ himself in international business or operations management, but he hasn’t ruled out the possibility of continuing to work with nonprofits.

The Peace Corps was established by executive order within weeks of John F. Kennedy taking office in 1961. Since then, nearly 220,000 Americans have served in 140 countries around the world.

Timor-Leste declared its independence from Indonesia under the patronages of Portugal in 1975. The declaration led to a civil war, in which about one-third of the country’s population died, comprising more than 250,000 deaths. Timor-Leste’s independence was fully restored in 2002.

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