Right now, 25-year old Mariel Venhuizen is in the air, flying to Mongolia. It’s a long way from her home town in Los Angeles, but she’s used to traveling – and service. 10 days ago, she got home from a year-long stint in Seattle with AmeriCorps, where she also worked as a Repair the World J-Connect intern at the University of Washington’s Hillel. And now she’s on her way to Mongolia to join the Peace Corps for the next two years.
In between her adventures, Mariel – a self described “nonprofit obsessive” – took the time to speak to Repair the World about her passion for travel and helping others, and why she’s particularly psyched to take this next step.
What made you decide to apply for the Peace Corps?
Travel has always been a big passion for me. I studied abroad in Italy during my junior year of college, and having that opportunity to travel internationally heightened my awareness of the world and what was out there. I also did a service trip with [Repair the World grantee-partner] JDC and spent two years with AmeriCorps, one in Louisiana and one I just finished Seattle. Believe it or not, a year goes by really quickly, so I’m looking forward to spending two years away and having a chance to acclimate somewhere while doing meaningful service work.
Where are you going?
I’m going to Mongolia – I’ll be amongst the 23rd group of volunteers to go with Peace Corps. I didn’t jump up and down when I found out that’s where I’d be going, but I’ve since learned that volunteers there seem to have an incredible experience. A lot of them request to extend their service for a third year and find other ways to return. I’m really excited for the challenge.
What will you be doing while you’re there?
I’ll be a secondary education English teacher, which means I’ll be teaching anywhere from 4th to 11th grade. I’ve never been a full on teacher on my own, and while teaching isn’t a career path I had put much thought into, I think teaching in this capacity is a unique opportunity. If I can give one child the fluency to enable them to go to college Mongolia or the States or Europe, then they can go on and do something with their lives. Ultimately, that’s why I’m doing this.
Will you jump right into teaching when you get there?
For the first three months I’ll stay with a host family and the focus will be on training. We’ll have four hours of intensive language training every day, then another four hours of cultural training. Once we’re placed at a sight – which could be in the capitol or a rural village 10 hours from the closest volunteer – I’ll volunteer about 12-14 hours a week as a teacher. The rest of that time will be spent working with the other teachers, running English language clubs, and being a greater help to the school.
Do you connect your work with service to your Jewish heritage?
I didn’t tie them together for most of my life, but being exposed – or re-exposed – to Judaism this past year via J-Connect in Seattle, I’ve begun to. Peace Corps isn’t a Jewish organization, but I’m a Jew helping out in the world. It’s definitely something I want to think about more moving forward.
Are you excited? Nervous?
I’ve been telling people for weeks that I’m not nervous – and I’m not really. But I am a bit nervous about the cultural aspect of being in a new place. Mongolia is a pretty superstitious place and you can make a hand gesture or say something and utterly disrespect someone without realizing it. Still, I’m excited as a whole. I’ve wanted this for a really long time. It’s the next chapter of my life and it’s finally here.
Follow Mariel’s adventures on her blog The Road Less Traveled.