What’s it like to be in the Peace Corps? Haley Davenport (FSU BA 2022), Rwanda

Tue, 11/21/23
Haley Davenport in the Peace Corps

Hello! My name is Haley Davenport, and I am a current U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer in Rwanda. Prior to arriving in Rwanda in June of 2022, I attended Florida State University, graduating with dual degrees in History and International Affairs in the Spring of 2022. While working toward my degrees as an undergraduate student, I worked full-time as a District Aide for the Florida State Representative of the Tallahassee area.

Growing up, I had always known about the U.S. Peace Corps. This is because my father served as a volunteer in Palau, a part of the Federated States of Micronesia, in the late 1970s. Often, my father would tell my sister and I his many stories and memories from being a volunteer, which always led me wanting to hear more and experience a life outside the United States. Also, my father had very positive experiences when he volunteered, and talked about how being a Peace Corps volunteer was one of the best experiences of his life. Thus, inspired by my father, but also my wanting to work overseas and help communities abroad, I decided to apply to be a Peace Corps volunteer.

The application process to join the Peace Corps is straightforward but does take time to complete. However, there are Peace Corps recruiters nationwide. We even have one at FSU. The first step of the application is to select a country and specific sector to work in, health, education, environment, agriculture, etc. If you don’t have a preference, the Peace Corps will put you wherever its partner nations need you. This is what I did. I submitted a resume and several letters of recommendation and was placed into the education sector in Rwanda. I had to complete a health form to determine if my health allowed me to live in a developing country.

The next step was interviewing, and then those selected received an invitation to serve, pending medical and security clearances. The volunteer positions last 27 months with the possibility of renewing for a further year. After onboarding activities and a last few days in D.C., we flew out to our respective countries.

Prior to leaving the U.S., I received information about becoming an effective English teacher, and how to earn my Teaching English as a Foreign Language Certificate.

However, once we got to Rwanda, myself and others in my cohort became trainees and had a three-month training program. During that time, we lived with Rwandan host families, who taught us the basics of everyday life in Rwanda. We learned how to hand-wash clothes, cook over charcoal and firewood, sweep and mop, take bucket baths and other daily chores. We began to practice Kinyarwanda, Rwanda’s national language, with our host families too. A lot of Rwandan family life is lived collectively with everybody helping with the daily chores.

During the daytime, we received in-depth instruction in Kinyarwanda, medical and safety training, and lessons about Rwandan culture. As an education trainee, I learned more about the education system in Rwanda and how to best teach and assist not only Rwandan primary and secondary students, but the local teachers as well.

I teach students from 10 to 15 years of age. I have around 40 to 50 children in each class. I co-teach and co-plan lessons for 40 hours a week with my Rwandan teacher counterparts. In a typical work week, Monday until Friday, school begins at 8 in the morning and goes on until 5 in the evening, with an hour break for lunch at 1pm, where I take my lunch at school. During these school hours I work with my English teacher counterparts to co-plan lessons to meet the needs of our students.

Along with my primary responsibilities, I also co-lead and facilitate extracurricular English activities at my school. I work with other English teachers to facilitate English clubs for students and teachers. Additionally, I help lead continuing professional development sessions for teachers at my school and assist with completing required tasks for the teachers to receive their teaching in English certificates.

The village where I live is about a 35 min walk from my school. I live by myself in a rented house. My neighbors are great, they have helped me so much. I had to find a carpenter to make my furniture, and my neighbors told me whom to ask. In the beginning, they let me borrow a bedstead and stuff so that I did not have to sleep on the floor. I spend most of my non-teaching time visiting my neighbors, visiting other volunteers at their sites, doing household chores, and going to the market, which is in the nearest biggest town, a 25 min bus ride away. Additionally, I spend my weekends studying Kinyarwanda with my tutor.

My favorite part of my job is being able to have the opportunity to meet new people every day and learn more about the culture of Rwanda.

A major challenge I have had to overcome is adapting and learning to living in a new country, where a different language is spoken and where there are very different social norms. Living in a more rural area has meant that I need to conform to cultural expectations more rigorously. For example, I cannot entertain a single man inside my house, I cannot go out to socialize in a bar, even whistling is frowned upon for unmarried women. In the U.S. I used to run to deal with stress, but here if I run, children will just follow, stare, and at times, try to hold onto me. So, I learned to deal with my stress in a different way. I write a lot, talk to other volunteers, and listen to music.

What surprised me the most during my Peace Corps experience was the deep relationships and connections that I have made with many people in my small community. This surprised me, as I consider many of my friends here in Rwanda closer to me than most people I knew back in the US. Prior to arriving, I thought that I would be and feel like an outsider throughout the entirety of my time in Rwanda. However, the exact opposite has occurred.

For those interested in applying for the Peace Corps, talk to a recruiter, as they have the most up to date information, and are very helpful. The recruiters do many activities to assist, such as helping to format a resume and giving mock interviews. Furthermore, I would encourage those who are interested to at least apply (the earlier the better), and then if one feels that the Peace Corps is not right for them, they can always pull their application or decline an invitation to serve.

Prior to coming to Rwanda, I felt many emotions especially fear. I was anxious that I would somehow fail in my role as a volunteer in Rwanda. However, looking back I realize I should not have been worried about that when arriving in Rwanda.

Also, when I was going through the pre-service training in Rwanda, learning Kinyarwanda was very difficult for me. During one of the language sessions where I was really struggling, one of the language teachers shared a Kinyarwanda saying that I will always remember. The saying is, “Birakomeye ariko Birashoboka,” which translates to “it is difficult, but it is possible.” That night, I realized my teacher was right, learning Kinyarwanda was difficult, but it is possible. That being said, my advice to myself and others interested in the Peace Corps would be that being a volunteer in any country can be and will be difficult. But no matter what challenges may arise, it is always possible to persevere and become stronger in the end.