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Peace Corps takes grad to Guinea, West Africa

Studying abroad while in college is the most traveling many will ever do. For Jill Karatz ’03, who spent a semester in Australia in 2001, it was only the beginning.

“When you visit for only a few months, you see only the surface of the society,” said Karatz. So, after graduating with a degree in communications, she joined the Peace Corps.

“I wanted to do something with my career where I was helping people,” said Karatz. In January 2004, she was assigned to West Africa for two and a half years.

After three days of training, the Brick native was sent to Guinea, where she joined 40 others for three more months of training. Karatz specialized in public health while learning French and other local languages.

Karatz was assigned to Arfamoussaya, a Guinean village, along with a doctor and vaccinator. She assisted with prenatal exams and malaria vaccinations. She also lectured on HIV/AIDS and malnutrition.

Immersed in the village’s culture, Karatz adapted quickly. “When I first got there, I had such Western views on everything,” Karatz said. Over time, she realized “different things work for different societies.”

“You eat what they eat. You live like they live,” she explained. That meant contacting home and eating meat only every other month. It had some more serious consequences as well: Karatz contracted malaria twice and suffered from malnutrition.

When her assignment ended, Karatz decided to travel for a few months in Africa and then in Europe, where she spent two months in France, fine-tuning her French language skills.

Returning home in June 2006 “was really difficult,” Karatz said, “It was actually more difficult coming home than going there.”

“You expect to fit back in naturally, and you don’t,” explained Karatz, now the newsletter coordinator for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. She hopes to eventually receive a Peace Corps fellowship and pursue a master’s degree.

There are positive changes as well, Karatz said. “Coming home and finding cold milk in the fridge was something different.”

— Amy Ovsiew ’08

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