Live from Guinea: Taylor Chavez Discusses the Peace Corps
Published 02/13/2019 in Alumni Features
Taylor Chavez, MS ’14, graduated in June of 2018 from Stanford University where she earned a degree in biomedical engineering. She decided to take the road less traveled, and is now serving in the Peace Corps as a Public Health Educator in Guinea, a country of 12.7 million people in West Africa. Taylor graciously took the time to answer a few questions from the Milken Scholars Program this past week. We hope you enjoy learning about her experience in the Peace Corps as much as we did!
Why did you decide to join the Peace Corps after graduating from Stanford?
I love helping others, and I always considered joining the Peace Corps as the epitome of volunteer work. Joining the Peace Corps was something I had always been interested in, but because I was uninformed, I thought I was unqualified to serve. It wasn’t until my major advisor at Stanford University suggested I apply that I realized there are many positions throughout the Peace Corps that only require a college degree, so I applied.
What was the application and interview process like?
The application and interview process was long and extensive. There is a long application online that is pretty straightforward, but thorough. The interview for Peace Corps was intensive, but Peace Corps sent me the interview questions beforehand, so I had plenty of time to prepare.
How did the Peace Corps determine your job role and location?
When I applied to Peace Corps, I applied specifically to be a Public Health Educator in Guinea. However, the application allows you to apply to Peace Corps generally and, if you choose that option, they will assign you to a position in a country where Peace Corps operates.
What do you do on a daily basis as a Public Health Educator?
Currently, I spend my days integrating into my village, which is located in Hoate Guinea. I cook with the women and drink tea with the men. I am building up my local language skills (I speak Pular in my village) so in a few months I will be able to host sensibilizations with my counterpart. My role is that of a capacity builder, so I do behind-the-scenes work. I work with my counterpart to create an information session on various health topics, while he takes full control of delivery and communication. I’m a backseat driver who ensures he has the tools to education others about important health topics in Guinea.
How do you expect your role as a Public Health Educator to evolve during your stay?
I am very unsure of how my role will change and evolve in the next two years. I’m here to roll with the punches and do whatever my community needs me to do, if I’m able to do that.
What is it like living in Guinea?
Life in Guinea is not for the faint of heart, but the people here are extraordinarily welcoming. I fetch my water from a well near my house, and I wash all of my clothes by hand. There is an absence of modern amenities here that has given me a true appreciation for the little things we have back in the States (such as toilets, Guinea has predominately pit latrines). My village, specifically, has electricity and cell coverage. However, there is no access to the internet in my village.
What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
The most challenging aspect of my job is definitely the language barrier. My village speaks Pular, and while I am learning the language, it makes everyday life a challenge.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
The most rewarding aspect of my job is getting to see how excited everyone here is to meet a foreigner, and they express such enthusiasm to learn about what life is like outside of Guinea.
How often do you expect to leave Guinea for travel/leisure/family during your two-year commitment?
I anticipate taking vacation roughly every six months while I’m here. Peace Corps grants two days of vacation for every month served, so roughly 50 days, and what is really nice is I can use those days at almost any time throughout my service, regardless of how long I’ve been in country.
Do you expect to have any visitors while you are in Guinea?
I anticipate one or two friends visiting me while I’m in Guinea. I am super excited to have visitors in Guinea, but those considering visiting should give me a call so we can talk frankly about what to expect.
Do you ever miss home?
I sometimes miss home. I have a lot of free time here, and it is very easy to miss things I had grown accustomed to while I was home.
What words of wisdom would you provide to Milken Scholars who are considering the Peace Corps?
My advice would be to just apply and see where it goes. I’d also offer to sit and chat (or video chat if I’m in country) if anyone has more specific questions about the application process or what it means to serve in the Peace Corps.
What does it mean to you personally to serve in the Peace Corps?
It is a great honor to serve in the Peace Corps. This has been something I have always wanted to do.