A Q&A with Caitlin Wilson ’16, Peace Corps and Study Abroad Alumna

Elizabethtown College alumna Caitlin Wilson ’16 recently shared her perspective on studying abroad, working with Peace Corps, and more.

Several adults and children work in a field planting and harvesting vegetables.

Caitlin’s Peace Corps work took her to Ghana, where she worked as an agriculture volunteer for 27 months. 

Q. If you had to give your elevator-pitch description of who you are and what you do, what would you say? (Describe yourself in very basic terms—what are the most important aspects of yourself that you want to share?)

A. I studied biology at Elizabethtown College and am currently finishing my master’s at West Virginia University in natural resource management. While serving as a Peace Corps volunteer, I did the research for my thesis in Ghana, where I interviewed farmers about bush burning practices and how they perceived the effects on their farms and to wildlife. Personally, I am an outdoors enthusiast and love hiking and snorkeling.

Q. What motivated you or got you interested in studying abroad at Etown?

A. I was always interested in studying abroad. I really wanted the chance to spend a significant amount of time in another culture while also having the opportunity to take classes. I partially chose Etown because of the variety of study abroad programs that were affiliated with the school.

Q. Can you give a brief overview of your study abroad experience? Where were you, and what were a few important details about your everyday life there?

A: In the spring 2015 semester, I studied abroad in the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) with the School for Field Studies. In the TCI, we studied various marine resources and how people interact with ocean ecosystems. We had the opportunity to be in the water almost every day, learning standard fieldwork practices for coral and fish surveys in reef ecosystems.

Q: Does a particular memory or moment from your time abroad stand out to you as incredibly special even today?

A: Part of the semester was dedicated to a directed research project. I worked with a group of about five other students to study juvenile lemon sharks. We all focused on different aspects of their nursery environments. It was the first opportunity I had to do fieldwork, collect data, analyze it, and then present my findings. I really enjoyed working with the other students on the project.

Q: What were some notable things you learned from your time abroad that you still refer to or benefit from today?

A: The semester I spent in the TCI really helped me fall in love with the ocean. It was the first experience I had to snorkel and see a variety of underwater ecosystems. We would see sea turtles, sharks, parrotfish, and so many different types of coral. I will always benefit from that experience even if I am not practically applying the knowledge and skills we learned during the semester.

Q: Did your study abroad experience in any way inspire your decision to join Peace Corps? If so, how?

A: I’m not sure my study abroad experience really inspired my decision to join Peace Corps. Peace Corps has been something that I’ve wanted to do since high school. The program in the TCI definitely helped to solidify my decision, though. In the TCI we stayed in a small community and shared our research with them. In our classes, we also focused heavily on how humans affect their environment and how the environment affects humans. I think this grassroots aspect of the TCI program is what interested me in the study abroad program, as well as what interested me in Peace Corps.

Q: Can you share a little bit about your Peace Corps experience? What is being in Peace Corps actually like? Was it difficult to adjust to a new lifestyle? What are some surprising or unexpected sides to your experience?

A: Doing Peace Corps is definitely an interesting experience. I was an agriculture volunteer in Ghana. My community was in a rural area of the Northern Region. I worked on different projects, but my main project focused on working with a women’s group to grow orange-flesh sweet potatoes. It was amazing to get to know the people in my community in Ghana and live with them for the two years of my service. It was a lot easier to adjust to the new culture and lifestyle than I had anticipated. My community was so welcoming to me that it was easy to get to know people and integrate.

Q: How did your experience in Peace Corps change your life, outlook, or future plans, if at all? Does it ring true for you that volunteering in Peace Corps is a life-changing experience?

A: Peace Corps is absolutely a life changing experience. Doing Peace Corps helps you to learn a lot about yourself while getting to live and work in a different country. My experience has made me want to focus more how humans interact with the ecosystems they live in and how people can adapt to changes in ecosystems.

Q: Do you have any advice for Etown students interested in either studying abroad or Peace Corps?

A: I would just say go for it if you’re interested in studying abroad or doing Peace Corps. There are shorter study abroad programs if a full semester can’t work out. As for Peace Corps, it is definitely a big commitment, but it is worth at least talking to a recruiter about all the opportunities that are available.

To learn more about the School for Field Studies and opportunities to complete fieldwork abroad, visit the SFS website here. If you have questions about studying, please contact the Study Abroad Office and/or email us at studyabroad@etown.edu. If you’re interested in pursuing the Peace Corps or other post-graduate opportunities, please reach out to E-town’s Prestigious Scholarships and Fellowships Office to learn more. 

About the Interviewee: Caitlin Wilson ’16

Caitlin Wilson grew up in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania. She attended Elizabethtown College, where she graduated in 2016 with a degree in biological sciences. From 2017-19, Caitlin served as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Northern Region of Ghana. She served as a agriculture volunteer. Caitlin is currently pursuing a Master of Science at West Virginia University in natural resource management. She will graduate in May 2020.

To learn more about Caitlin’s Peace Corps service, please visit the E-town NOW site to read their December 2019 article on Caitlin’s experiences in Ghana.

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