Caitlin Josten has an unusual goal for the next several weeks: She hopes to become such an annoying pest that her mother, Kathy, will be happy to see her leave at the end of the summer.
No such luck, said Kathy, owner of Bridge Street Boutique and Gift in Elkader. While some distance might be nice for a few days after spending the summer working together, neither Kathy nor her husband, Ed, are overjoyed by their daughter’s next move. The 2011 University of Iowa graduate who also graduated from Central High School will leave in September for 27 months in Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer.
“They’ve reached the point where they’re excited for me, I think.” Caitlin said, “But when I first mentioned it, well, Dad, tried really hard to find me a teaching job in the States.”
Caitlin was working at an elementary school in Iowa City when she made the decision to join the Peace Corps. It wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment choice. Peace Corps representatives who were regular speakers in her education classes at UI planted the seed during her undergraduate days.
“It’s been in the back of my mind for a while,” she said. “I really want to travel and learn about new cultures, and this will give me the chance to do both.”
Caitlin’s decision was followed by a period of “hurry up and wait.” She completed lengthy application materials that included several forms and essay questions. Several weeks of waiting passed. She had a telephone interview with a recruiter, which was followed by more waiting. She was contacted by the placement office and after even more waiting she received an invitation to become a Peace Corps volunteer. She was given an assignment—teaching English to future teachers of English—as well as a location in southwest Africa and a start date, September 2013.
“Flexibility should be a key word in the Peace Corps motto because there’s nothing easy or fast about this process,” Caitlin added, punctuating her comment with a characteristic wide smile.
In preparation for her upcoming adventure, Caitlin is spending the summer studying Peace Corps materials on Mozambique. She will be living in a small village called Naamach near the capital city of Maputo. She’s already well versed on the area’s history, climate and culture. She’s brushing up on Portuguese, the official language of Mozambique. And amidst it all, she’s working at her mom’s shop.
“I’m looking forward to embracing everything, including the food,” said Caitlin, a vegetarian who plans to re-introduce meat into her diet. “Peanut butter is available there so I’m pretty happy about that.”
When she leaves, Caitlin will be restricted to 80 pounds of luggage. She initially found that daunting but has since learned that many people pack lightly and then have custom clothes made there, where material and labor is less expensive. Her first stop will be a stateside Peace Corps training center, likely in Philadelphia. She’ll be there for just two weeks and then it’s on to Africa. Her first three months in the “dark continent” will be spent in the home of a host family where no English is spoken.
“I won’t know them or anything about them until we’re introduced and I go off to live with them,” Caitlin explained. “I’m looking forward to learning a lot in those three months.”
Caitlin has the option of returning home for a visit if it works with her teaching schedule. And she can leave the Peace Corps if she doesn’t like it. She doesn’t see that happening, however.
“Who knows,” she said, “maybe when my time is up I’ll sign on for another 27 months somewhere else.”
Kathy, who overheard the comment, wasn’t thrilled.
By Pam Reinig Register Editor