Former Lakers to share Peace Corps stories with prospective applicants

Drew Howard

Grand Valley State University is inviting students interested in joining the Peace Corps to attend an event “What is the Peace Corps Really Like?” The event, happening tonight at 7 p.m., will focus on illustrating what one can expect when they travel overseas as well as illuminating the ins and outs of the Peace Corps program.

Students on the fence in their decision to join the Peace Corps will find relatability in the event’s three GVSU alumnae speeakers, all of whom ended their sessions with the humanitarian organization quite recently.

Anel Guel, Jillian Zirnhelt and Lyndia McMullen are all set to speak at the event about their recent experiences abroad.

An international relations major, Guel graduated from GVSU in 2011 but knew she wanted to join the Peace Corps as early as her junior year. After a long and stretched out application process, Guel officially joined the program in June of 2012.

“Today the Peace Corps needs a higher number of volunteers, so it’s more common for people to choose their position and destination in the application process,” Guel said. “When I applied, it was a complete surprise as to where I was going.”

Guel ended up serving in Carhuaz, Peru within the region of Ancash. Her projects focused primarily on youth development, though much of the work Guel did varied from day to day.

“There’s no ordinary day,” Guel said. “It takes someone who is very flexible to join the Peace Corps. The best people for the job are the ones who know that not everything will go to plan.”

Guel hopes that by sharing her experiences with interested Peace Corps applicants it will give a better view of what life is really like within the program.

Zirnhelt graduated in 2011 and began her time in the Peace Corps in 2012 when she was assigned to work in Fiji.

“I was living on Vanua Levu, the second largest island in Fiji,” Zirnhelt said. “I worked with the Community Health Empowerment Program, otherwise known as CHAP. We were heavily involved in local health centers, nursing stations and hospitals. A lot of our work dealt with health education within the community.”

While Fiji is often represented as an island paradise, Zirnhelt said that it takes a person with a lot of perseverance to make it through the two-year commitment.

“I lived without electricity for two years and the house I was living in flooded multiple times,” Zirnhelt said. “You have to be open-minded and up for anything that might happen.”

Despite the difficulties, Zirnhelt described her time in the Peace Corps as invaluable as well as life changing.

“It will teach you things that are very, very useful going forward in life,” Zirnhelt said. “Your involvement in the program will teach you so much about the person you want to be. You will come out more patient, aware and knowledgeable.”

Zirnhelt trusts that the insights provided at tonight’s occasion will be more valuable and beneficial than anything that might be heard second-hand.

“I think that when you hear a story first-hand it becomes much more real,” she said. “It becomes much easier to see if this is something you really want to do. You will be able to decide if this (is) something you’re truly up for, or if it’s actually too much to handle.”

To hear more from these former student Lakers, tonight’s event runs from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m in the Kirkhof Center, Room 2266.

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