PLET students’ final days in Denmark, Sweden

Guest Post by Molly Joyce, senior Plastics Engineering Technology major

No matter how vivid the photos or descriptive the lecture, there’s nothing quite like seeing and experiencing another country in person. And, in today’s increasingly global business climate, it’s vital that students be versed in the culture and business practices of international partners. There is much to be learned from seeing how others do it. That’s why, every year, students in the Plastics Engineering Technology (PLET) program have the opportunity to travel overseas to visit plastics companies and universities and attend a plastics trade show, too.

On Thursday, Oct. 18th, a group of PLET majors embarked on an 11-day trip to Denmark and Sweden. We asked student Molly Joyce to keep a travel log and tell us about the trip. Here is her report from the group’s final days:

Day 7 — Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Today was the ScanPack Trade show, which was just a few blocks away from our hostel. ScanPack is Scandinavia’s biggest trade fair for the packaging industry. As PLET students, we enjoyed free admission and we were quickly off in small groups to talk to some companies and learn about different career options.

My group made an effort to talk to some companies that were not plastics companies so that we could learn about other industries and see the logic or their reasoning for using other materials. For example, we talked to a company that manufactures motors for machines used in packaging or secondary operations and it was really neat to learn about the mechanics and the different types available.

It was also interesting to note that many companies are trying to go green and make their packaging more environmentally friendly. This is something that we have noticed is a large part of the culture over here. They have a lot of recycling bins for different materials and separate them, as opposed to the single stream recycling that we are used to in the United States.

PLET10

Students at ScanPack show

Day 8 — Thursday, October 25, 2018

We traveled from Gothenburg to Stockholm today. It was about a three-hour train ride. This transportation was nice because it was the fast track and had few stops and reserved seating. We did not, however, know that you had to reserve the seating so Mr. Meckley was running around 15 minutes before the train left to get us seats. It worked out and he ended up with 5 minutes to spare, but it was a little hectic. Good thing there were only nine of us because I imagine that would have been a lot more difficult with thirty people. When we got there, we checked into our hostel and set about roaming the new city and had a late lunch. I had Swedish meatballs because it only made sense. Then we explored the medieval museum.

Day 9 — Friday, October 26, 2018

Today, we were supposed to visit SSAB steel but they were closed due to maintenance issues. So we had a free day in Stockholm, which was nice because there is a lot to explore in this city and two-and-one-half days still wasn’t enough.

We toured the Vasa museum which was absolutely incredible. It had the world’s only rescued 17th century ship. We were doing well in Copenhagen using public transportation, but today….not so much. Luck was not in our favor and we may have gone the wrong way a few times and gotten off at the wrong location a time or two.  However, in the end, we ended up where we needed to be.

PLET9

Day 10 — Saturday, October 27, 2018

Today was our last day. We tried to pack in as much as we could. Both groups visited Skyview, which takes you in a globe on top of the world’s largest spherical building to get a view of the city. Then we went to Vikingaliv to see Viking culture and what life was like. It was really neat to see what they ate, how they built their houses, and just overall what life was like. Today was the final supper as well; all nine of us went to eat together. It was absolutely delicious!

plet8

Day 11 — Sunday, October 28, 2018

Today was a very long travel day. After breakfast, we made a trek to the airport—walking, then a train, then another train. We got through security pretty easily, then we had a three-hour flight to Iceland with a short layover. Then we had another six-hour flight plane ride to Toronto. Once we landed, we spent about an hour getting through customs and such until we got to our final leg — a three-hour car ride from Toronto to Erie. We arrived home around midnight.

Final thoughts

Overall, this was an excellent experience that I think every student who has the opportunity should take. Plastics are a global thing, and different countries have different priorities or systems that we can use to further advance our industry in the United States. Getting the chance to experience different cultures and to learn from them is an excellent way to broaden your knowledge as an engineer.

I would like to give a special thank you, despite all the sass, to Mr. Jon Meckley, associate professor of engineering, and Dr. Gary Smith, lecturer in engineering, for all the hard work they put in to make this a memorable experience for us.

~ Molly

PLET students explore Denmark, Sweden

Guest Post by Molly Joyce, senior Plastics Engineering Technology major

No matter how vivid the photos or descriptive the lecture, there’s nothing quite like seeing and experiencing another country in person. And, in today’s increasingly global business climate, it’s vital that students be versed in the culture and business practices of international partners. There is much to be learned from seeing how others do it. That’s why, every year, students in the Plastics Engineering Technology (PLET) program have the opportunity to travel overseas to visit plastics companies and universities and attend a plastics trade show, too.

On Thursday, Oct. 18th, a group of PLET majors embarked on an 11-day trip to Denmark and Sweden. We asked student Molly Joyce to keep a travel log and tell us about the trip. Here is her report from the first three days:

Day 1 Thursday, October 18th, 2018

Today was a travel day. Our first leg was driving to the Toronto International airport. We then departed from Toronto, Canada, and flew to Copenhagen, Denmark, with a layover in Reykjavik, Iceland. We enjoyed sleep and movies on the plane and played cards during our layovers.

Day 2 Friday, October 19th, 2018

Today was our first day in Copenhagen. We arrived around noon and after a quick trip from the train station to the hostel, we were then free to explore the city. Since we are a smaller group of seven students, we had our first meal together in a little Danish cafe. After, we enjoyed a canal tour of the city. Then we visited Tivoli Gardens, an amusement park in the city, which was decorated for Halloween.

Day 3 Saturday, October 20th, 2018

Today was a free day for the students, so after breakfast we broke off into smaller groups to explore the city. Both groups were able to witness the changing of the guard at Amalienborg Palace.

Next, we ventured into Rosenborg Palace where we saw how the royals back in the 1500’s lived and Christiansborg Palace where we saw the ruins, the kitchen, and the royal stables. We also visited The Little Mermaid statue that was gift from a Danish Icelandic sculptor to Denmark.

One group rented bikes to be able to tour more of the city. That group ventured into Christiana. Another group climbed the Round Tower for an aerial city view and visited Kastellet.

PLET trip3

Rosenborg Castle

PLET trip - crown

Christian IV’s Crown from 1596

PLET trip - little mermaid

Erik Steinnmetz, Molly Joyce, and Dalton Scott at the Little Mermaid statue

PLET trip4

Erik Steinmetz, Dalton Scott, and Molly Joyce at the Gustavskirken Church

PLET trip 5

Chris Vrana, Curtis Boggs, Collin Gilarno, and Scott Sada on a self-guided bike tour in Copenhagen.

NEXT: The PLET students will spend a few days in various Denmark cities and tour the LEGO factory before moving onto Gotenburg where they will attend the ScanPack Trade Show. After that, they are off to Stockholm, Sweden, where they will visit SSAB Steel.  We’ll post updates from Molly as they arrive.

Harambee Dinner Brings Campus Community Together

By Heather Cass
Publications Manager, Office of Strategic Communications,  Penn State Behrend

dinner2

Flavors, customs, and tastes may differ from country to country, but food is a universal language of human beings. Sharing a meal, whether an elaborate holiday feast or a simple dinner, can unite and create community among people.

For thirty-two years, Penn State Behrend’s Multi-Cultural Council, a student club comprising of cultural student organizations, sets the table for connection among the campus community at the club’s annual Harambee dinner.

This year’s dinner is scheduled for October 4 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. in McGarvey Commons.

“Harambee is a word in Swahili that means ‘Let’s pull together’ and originated in the country of Kenya as a slogan for national unity,” said Andy Herrera, Director of Educational Equity and Diversity Programs and adviser for MCC. “We use this event as a way of uniting our campus community and celebrating the diversity of cultures here at Behrend.”

The annual event offers students, faculty and staff members a chance to get to know one another while enjoying an international buffet dinner and an evening of entertainment. This year’s guest speaker is Shinjini Das, a young entrepreneur, industrial engineer, global millennial influencer, and media personality. She is the founder and CEO of The Das Media Group, a boutique digital strategy consulting firm, and has been recognized for her global efforts to empower women.

The event will also feature a cultural performance with a professional touring group performing Afro-Brazilian music and the Brazilian dance art of capoeira.

“It’s really nice to see the diversity of students and community members who attend the event every year,” Herrera said. “Some students from MCC wear traditional dress from their various cultures, and group members emcee the event and speak about the importance and meaning of Harambee.”

The timing of the event is deliberate, Herrera said.

“Harambee is held in early fall every year to set a tone of cultural awareness and appreciation for the year. Like the name of the dinner suggests, it’s meant to pull us all together.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

If you wish to attend Harmabee, RSVP at the Multi-Cultural Council’s Behrendsync page. (NOTE: If link is not live, it will be soon!)

 

 

 

 

Puerto Rico Trip Sheds Light on Island Still Recovering from Hurricane

Andrea Konkol, associate director of admissions at Penn State Behrend, recently returned from Puerto Rico, an island still reeling from the effects of Hurricane Maria, which tore through the Caribbean six months ago. Hurricane Maria was the worst natural disaster to ever hit Puerto Rico and is responsible for at least 112 confirmed deaths. Some people are still missing. The death toll in Puerto Rico is believed to be much higher than reported, possibly more than 1,000. The hurricane wrought catastrophic damage to the island, with much of the housing and infrastructure beyond repair. Total losses from the hurricane are estimated at upwards of $91.61 billion. We asked Konkol to share what she saw while she was in Puerto Rico attending College Week in the Caribbean.

Andrea Konkol web photo.jpg

By Andrea Konkol

Associate director of admissions, Penn State Behrend

College Week in the Caribbean is a weeklong series of high school visits and college fairs coordinated by the Caribbean Counselor Association (CCA), a group of college and school counselors based in San Juan, Puerto Rico. I traveled with representatives from twelve other college and universities. This was my twelfth College Week since 2011. Students in Puerto Rico have only a few options for college on the island and many are looking to go to the mainland United States to pursue new and different opportunities.

I was apprehensive about traveling this year because I wondered what the condition of the islands would be like post-Hurricane Maria.

I was surprised by how green everything was when I looked out over the landscape. If you saw pictures of Puerto Rico after the hurricane, you know that the landscape and trees were stripped bare and appeared totally brown. Mother Nature can regenerate at fantastic rate! (Check out this slideshow with then and now photos of Puerto Rico).

There are certainly bruises on the infrastructure, though. Buildings with boarded-up windows, twisted and bent street signs, and the occasional out-of-order street light were all things I witnessed.

For the most part, though, life seems to be back to somewhat normal conditions. People go to work and to school. Life has gone on. As I reflect on my week, I am struck by one thought: the people living on these islands are incredibly resilient!

I should say that our travels did not take us directly into the hardest hit areas that are, by many accounts, still without water or power. I was mostly in the San Juan metro area.

However, we did spend one day traveling southwest of San Juan, to Ponce. The drive took us through the central mountains of the island. It was hard to miss the telltale bright blue FEMA tarps that dotted the hillsides and marked homes damaged by the storm. Again, the greenness of the mountains was astonishing! Both people and nature were hard at work rebuilding.

My hotel appeared to be serving as some kind of logistics center for the island’s power restoration efforts. Early in the morning and late in the evening, the elevators were filled with electrical line workers. I spoke with one gentleman from Con Edison who lived in New Jersey. He had been on the island for more than a month and was also on the island for the month of November. He asked if I was on vacation. I wish! When I told him I was a recruiter for Penn State, he told me he had a 17-year-old looking at colleges. “Keep Penn State in mind!” I said as he exited the elevator. As admissions recruiters we are always working to recruit our next student, even in elevators!

We visited eighteen schools in Puerto Rico and two in St. Thomas during our five days of recruiting. School counselors consistently told us it was a tough year. Maria hit just as students were applying to colleges for fall admission. Yet, they told stories of students and neighbors helping each other. They shared a few scarce Wi-Fi hot spots with friends so they could complete their college applications. Several schools greeted us with cheers when we arrived. Students in Puerto Rico are hungry for college information.

My time in Puerto Rico often reminds me why I love my job. I like to think higher education is the business of changing lives. While I hope some of the students I spoke with will explore Penn State further, perhaps the most important thing they learn from College Week is that a college education is possible and opportunities abound.

PR blog4

Andrea Konkol, right, at the the big public college fair. The other woman in the picture with Konkol is Glendalys Millan, mother of one of our current students Paola Maldonado-Millan.  Konkol said Millan graciously volunteered to help her at the fair because the Penn State table tends to be so busy.

PR Blog 3

Students at Academy San Jose.

PR blog 2

The San Juan skyline.

PR blog1

Oustside the American Military Academy in Puerto Rico.

 

PLET students explore Austria and Germany

Guest Post by Haley Palys, senior Plastics Engineering Technology major

No matter how vivid the photos or descriptive the lecture, there’s nothing quite like seeing and experiencing another country in person. And, in today’s increasingly global business climate, it’s vital that students be versed in the culture and business practices of international partners. There is much to be learned from seeing how others do it. That’s why, every year, students in the Plastics Engineering Technology program have the opportunity to travel overseas to visit plastics companies and universities and attend a plastics trade show, too.

On Thursday, Oct. 12th, a group of PLET majors embarked on a 10-day trip to Austria and Germany. We asked student Haley Palys to keep a travel log and tell us about her trip. Here’s her report:

Oct. 12-13 — The Journey Begins.

Our bus to Toronto-Pearson Airport left at 9:00 a.m., so a few of us in the group decided to enjoy the Breakfast Place’s food one final time. We later arrived at Toronto early, leaving ourselves PLENTY of time to enjoy the airport’s free Wi-Fi and long lines. A couple hours later, and we were off to Austria (not Australia).

As soon as we arrived in the Vienna Airport, I knew this city was beautiful. Unfortunately, the jet lag wiped out majority of the group. I decided to walk to the famous Museum-Quartier square, and in the Volksgarten, enjoying the perfect weather and sunny skies. Others in our group opted to check out the Natural History Museum and explore.

Everyone got to experience the famous Viennese food, including my first bites of the wiener-schnitzel (and my favorite now)! Meat, cheese, bread, and Italian food were on menus across the town, yet it was all in German, so we couldn’t read it anyways. Later into the night (7:30 p.m.), I was fighting the jet lag while others were still getting to know the city.

Oct. 14 — Exploring Vienna

Everyone met at 8:30 a.m. after a refreshing breakfast of orange juice, sliced meats and cheeses, and bread. Within 30 minutes of walking through the fresh air, I was awake and feeling good.

Our group of six got to the Schloss Schönbrunn as it opened and began to walk the yards. The entire estate was jaw-dropping, especially how large it was. Then we learned it was only a summer-house for the royal family. We then toured thirty-six of the rooms in the palace, which all were stunning—my favorite being the ballroom and porcelain room. Out of the whole experience though, the pretzels and fresh-pressed orange juice at the café blew our minds. We were all done sooner than expected, giving us time to head over to the St. Stephen’s Cathedral. There we toured the catacombs, saw some bones, and then climbed 343 steps for a gorgeous view of the city. After a long day of walking, we found a spot on the Danube River to sit and watch the river boats do 180°s.

For lunch I had a grilled salmon with hollandaise sauce, while the others enjoy more traditional dishes like bratwurst. Some even opted on trying out the non-alcoholic beers, and I struggled to avoid ordering “fizzy” water. Later for dinner, we shared some laughs at a nice outdoor-patio café and wine bar.

Oct. 15 — Saying Goodbye to Vienna

At 8:30 a.m., we were all packed and ready to head out to start the day. After locking up our stuff, we headed off to the Technology Museum. It was located close to the Schönbrunn, and had gorgeous views of the palace.

The exhibits were awesome, and the whole place was huge! We were enjoying the interactive exhibits along with the kids for a while, then realized just how much information there was. The whole museum was about four stories high, with about ten different areas ranging from Energy to Media based technology. After rushing through to get a look at everything, we enjoyed some delicious pizzas and pastas before heading back to pack up. We hopped on the train, and got a stunning view of the countryside and Alps.

Oct. 16 — ENGEL Tour

Our group started the day with some more cold cuts and cheese and bread, then an hour long bus ride to Schwertberg. We were lucky enough to be touring ENGEL, a global injection molding machine manufacturer. We spent the morning there and were served the fanciest lunch plates I have ever seen, with of course sparkling water and orange juice.

After touring the Schwertberg headquarter plant, we set off to the Dietech plant where the automation, or robot, equipment is manufactured. It was a quick tour, but we got to see a lot.

Afterwards, we left for St. Valentine where the big machinery is manufactured. This was truly incredible to see, because everything was bigger than anything I have seen or worked with. Tommy Vervoort and Joe Donofrio were familiar with these large tonnage machines thanks to past internships, and were able to ask questions to the engineers. At the end of the tour, my group was allowed to step inside the machine platens for a picture—that’s how big it was!

We said our thank-you’s and goodbyes, and headed off to the train station. We then left for Munich, enjoying even more views of the Alps along the way to Germany.

A small portion of the group will spend tomorrow in Innsbruck, Austria to spend some time on the slopes of the glacier, so they left to catch their own connection train. They stayed the night there and will spend the next day skiing until their train to Munich arrives.

PLET in germany3

Innsbruck, Austria

We who went straight to Munich found their way to our own hostels. After the long day of traveling I needed some comforts of home—so we went to the KFC down the block for dinner, while the others spent a little more time trying to find a good place to eat and walked around Munich.

PLET in germany2

ENGEL tour, Austria

Oct. 17 — Munich Adventures

Today was another free cultural day, and I had planned to visit the Dachau Concentration Camp. Our group arrived close to the opening time, so the already somber camp seemed even more chilling and empty. The actual museum was moving and gave an in-depth look into life at Dachau. The grounds were serene, despite the immense history surrounding us.

After the solemn tour, I wanted to cheer myself up, so we wandered through Munich past the Marienplatz, and ended up at the Hofbrau Haus for lunch. We each enjoyed some traditional Bavarian meals and drinks, and I was ready to buy all the pretzels I could find.

Image result for german pretzels

With our stomachs full, we decided to walk it off and check out the famous English Garden. Specifically, we wanted to see the Eisbach, or the man-made “perfect surfing wave” in the streets of Munich.

On the way there we ran into some others in our group at an art museum. Ryan Bauer then clued us in on some architectural history of the museum. It was once a Nazi headquarters, and was converted to an officers’ mess hall after WW2, but evidence of its origin, swastika tiling, could be found on the ceiling right outside the front door.

After we had out fill of the street surfers, we strolled past a nude park [unexpected], and began our walk back to the hostel. We walked through the Hofgarten and saw the Bavarian State Chancellery, which also had evidence of the war. Along the front columns, large bullet holes painted the façade.

Oct. 18 — Neuschwanstein Castle

Everyone made their way to the train station at 6:30 a.m. promptly, and boarded the train towards Füssen. Half the group got their tickets for the tours of both castles, and we started our uphill trek towards Neuschwanstein. The fifteenth-century castle was stunning from all views, but the scenery around us was even more breathtaking. We climbed the mountain adjacent to the castle for a birds-eye view of not only the castle, but the mountainous landscapes, pristine lake reflections, and miles of farm land.

Once we had our fill of Neuschwanstein, we took a horse carriage ride down the hill and headed to the other side of the valley to see Hohenschwangau castle. And once again the views took my breathe away. After eating some bratwursts for lunch, we met up with another group to head back to Munich.

img_5652

Oct. 19 — Rosenheim University Tour

Today we were fortunate enough to spend the day at Rosenheim, a university in which some Behrend students have studied abroad at. We were shown around their plastics lab, and got to see all the machines and capabilities they had. We were then treated to lunch, and then sprinted to catch our train back to Munich. We retrieved our bags, and headed to Bieberach to spend the night and rest.

PLET in germany1

Rosenheim University, Germany

Oct. 20 — FAKUMA Show

After enjoying some more lunch meat, orange juice, and bread for breakfast, we left for the FAKUMA show, a case show for companies in the plastics industry to network to customers and showcase their newest technologies and capabilities. We had about five hours to walk around eight different buildings which were each jammed-packed with companies.

We somehow made it through everything (and still missed a lot), and showed off our gadgets and trinkets with each other. The highlight of this was a watch that Arburg, and injection molder manufacturer, was assembling and giving away.

Oct. 21 — Heidelberg

As this was our last day to enjoy Germany, I decided to relax and just walk and see how much of the city I could see. One group hiked up to a famous outlook of the city and Heidelberg Palace, and discovered some more castles along the way. We even found an American themed bar next to the hostel, and showed everyone there how to properly eat a burger (not with a fork and knife).

Auf wiedersehen, Deutschland!

 

 

 

 

 

Plastics Engineering Technology Students Off to Austria and Germany

Guest Post by Haley Palys, senior Plastics Engineering Technology major

No matter how vivid the photos or descriptive the lecture, there’s nothing quite like seeing and experiencing another country in person. And, in today’s increasingly global business climate, it’s vital that students be versed in the culture and business practices of international partners. There is much to be learned from seeing how others do it. That’s why, every year, students in the Plastics Engineering Technology program have the opportunity to travel overseas to visit plastics companies and universities and attend a plastics trade show, too.

On Thursday, Oct. 12th, a group of PLET majors will begin a 10-day trip to Austria and Germany. We asked them to send us some photos and tell us about their journey. In this blog post, student Haley Palys gives us a preview of what the group will be seeing while overseas.

With the advancement of technology, foreign partnerships are becoming more and more common for many businesses. This is especially relevant for the growing plastics industry.

That’s why faculty members in the Plastics Engineering Technology program try to help us get the experience and be prepared to take on unfamiliar situations and cultures. In order to get the full experience, each year a group of seniors are given the opportunity to spend ten days studying abroad. The destination changes every year, but is often dependant on tours and technical caseshows.

On October 12, twenty-one students will be begin a journey to Austria and Germany. Our group will travel to Vienna, Munich, and Hiedelberg, while also visiting some smaller cities along the way.

The first major tour is at the Engel headquarters, an injection molding machine manufacturer. We also plan to tour Rosenheim University, a college with which Behrend is currently collaborating through an exchange program. The FAKUMA caseshow is another stop on our map. There, we will network and learn about many companies active in the plastics industry.

With about two weeks left before we depart, some of us students—including myself—are bubbly with excitement. For the majority of the group, this will be our first trip abroad. We are allowed a few cultural days, where we can form groups and schedule our own plans to enjoy the cities.

I asked around the group to see what everyone was most excited about, and it was nice to see such a broad range of interest.

Kevin Orndorf eagerly replied “skiing,” while Mitch Garus said he was just excited to experience the different countries and culture. Joe Donofrio is most excited to tour the Engel headquarters, and to see all the innovative technology they are producing.

heidelbergHeidelberg Palace

Engineering Grad to Serve in Peace Corps in Africa

By Heather Cass
Publications Manager, Office of Strategic Communications,  Penn State Behrend

Alex Laffey - first choice

This is the time of year that graduating college seniors are making decisions about their future. Should they accept the job offer in Baltimore or the one in Chicago? Should they go to graduate school or pursue a research position?

For Alex Laffey, a senior Mechanical Engineering major, there are no questions. She has known what she’s wanted to do after college since her first year of high school.

“I learned about the Peace Corps in my freshman history class, and I knew that I wanted to be a part of it,” Laffey said. “Former president John F. Kennedy created the Peace Corps as a means for individuals in America to volunteer internationally, and I figured this was the best way to go to combine my passion for traveling and service.”

Laffey, a Pittsburgh native, will leave in July to serve for two years as a secondary math education teacher in Sierra Leone, Africa. We caught up with her to ask her about the exciting adventure she will embark on after her graduation in May.

What solidified your decision to volunteer with the Peace Corps?

Last summer, I traveled to India for two weeks to visit a friend. It was the first time I had ever been away from my parents and home in a completely new environment, and I loved it. I loved trying all of the new foods, being a minority, and even learning a little bit of the language. Seeing the country also showed me how much the rest of the world needs our help. As soon as I came back from India, I immediately started my application.

Did you choose Africa, or does the Peace Corps decide where you go?

When I applied, I was asked to list the top three places I would like to serve. Sierra Leone was my first choice. It stood out in my mind from a book I had read—A Long Way Gone. I didn’t even put a second and third choice because I figured that if I couldn’t go to Africa, I’d be happy to go wherever they needed me. Luckily, it worked out that they needed math teachers in Sierra Leone and the Corps had a new group leaving in July.

Has anyone in your family ever served in the Peace Corps or do they volunteer?

Nobody in my family has ever served in the Peace Corps, but my parents always taught me to help others. Not only have they helped me with everything tremendously, but they also go out of their way to help others. They are constantly volunteering and making a difference in our community and abroad. They were my inspiration for wanting to go.

Do you choose what you will be doing there?

You volunteer in one of six sectors for the Peace Corps: agriculture, community economic development, education, environment, health, and youth development. Like with location, I had to rank my top three preferences. I initially wasn’t sure what sector I wanted to volunteer in, but after speaking with a recruiter she suggested teaching because of my engineering degree.

Will you be in the same location for the entire two years?

I will be in the same country for the whole two years, but in different cities. When I arrive in July, I will be staying with a host family for three months to help with cultural integration and adjustment. After those three months, I will begin my two years of service, and the Peace Corps will decide where to place me. So, as of right now, I know that I will be in Sierra Leone. I just don’t know exactly where.

What do you know about Africa? Do they speak English? Do you go to any training to help you before you leave?

When I arrive in July, I will begin with three months of training. This includes safety, health, teaching, and even how to properly do laundry. The official language is English, but throughout the villages, many different languages are spoken so I will get a basic overview of all of those. Right now, I have been reading a lot different books about the location, and the Peace Corps has provided me with a lot of information. They also put me in touch with Peace Corps volunteers who were in Sierra Leone and that has been very helpful!

What are you taking? How does one pack for two years?

I am honestly not sure how I am going to pack all of my stuff! I can only take a carry-on, one personal item, and two suitcases. I’ve been reading a lot of blogs, and talking to returned volunteers about what is most essential. I know I will definitely be getting a hammock to enjoy the nice weather, and a bunch of solar chargers so that I can use my laptop and phone while I am there.

Where will you be living? What are the conditions like? Are they primitive?

After my first three months with a host family, I will move to my official site where I will stay for two years. It could be in a city or a village, and I won’t know that until later. Regardless, I will have internet access, so I can keep in touch with friends and family.

How many vaccinations do you have to get?

So far, I have only had to get two shots, but I have had a lot of blood work done. The Peace Corps gave me a list of twenty-some tasks that I must complete to be medically cleared to go. It has been taking awhile to get through all of those. Many of them are to ensure the country I’m traveling to can handle any medical needs I may have, and that I will respond well to medicines commonly available there.

What are you most excited about?

All of it! I cannot wait to meet the people I will be serving with and the students I’ll be teaching and to see the country. I’ve read a lot about the country and the people there and, at this point, I’m just ready to experience it all first-hand.

Is there anything that makes you nervous/apprehensive about this trip?

I am definitely nervous to be so far away from the amazing support system I have at home. It’s definitely going to be hard to do it all alone, but I know that my family and friends are only a phone call away, and that I have other volunteers to lean on while I am there.

What did your parents say when you told them you were doing this?

At first, they were really supportive, but I think that’s because they thought I wouldn’t go through with it. When I was accepted, I was hesitate to bring it up because I didn’t want them to worry. It is a lot for them to deal with. I mean, their daughter is graduating from college and moving 5,000 miles away to living in an African village for two years. But they’ve already planned a trip to visit me, and I think that has really helped ease their minds.

What are you hoping to get out of this experience?

I am hoping to gain a new perspective, and make a difference. I can get caught up in my “problems” and think that I’m having a bad day, but the truth is that I am very fortunate. I also want to teach others and encourage them to keep learning. If I can help just one student while I am there, it will be enough.

Will you get to come home at all? How will you keep in touch with your family/friends while you’re away?

I am not allowed to travel outside of Africa for the first six months or the last three months of my service. Other than that, I am able to come home or go to other countries to sightsee. I receive two vacation days a month and I can save them up for a longer trip. Friends and family are welcome (and encouraged) to visit!

What are you plans when you return to the states?

I have no idea! I am hoping to come back and spend time with friends and family, eat all of the food I will have missed, and then hopefully find a job in engineering.

Laffey plans to blog about her experiences in Africa. Follow her at alexandralaffey.wordpress.com. Read more about Laffey in her Standout Senior profile.