Earlier this year, Diana Chavez (LAS ’15) headed to rural Thailand for her Peace Corps assignment. The sociology major will spend more than two years doing service work in the northeastern Soeng Sang district. After only eight months in Thailand, Chavez is already considering staying for a third year. Below, she shares her favorite inspirational quote, the reason she called someone a “horse” and why she feels at home in her adopted country.
Who or what motivated you to join the Peace Corps?
My mother was my inspiration to apply. Throughout my life, she worked very hard to make sure I was able to get a good education, and I didn’t want her sacrifices to go unnoticed. She moved from Mexico to the U.S. to give me better opportunities, and I took those opportunities. I learned to be very goal-oriented starting when I got my first job at the age of 16. Since then, every job I have held has been because I wanted to do more and make an impact. I wanted a job that didn’t feel like a job. I was done with the 9 to 5. I needed a challenge, and I reminded myself of a quote I live by: “If your goals don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough.”
What kind of work are you doing in Thailand? Walk us through a typical day or week.
My title is teacher collaborator and community facilitator. I co-teach English with two Thai teachers, and I help train the teachers to be more effective in the classroom. I also help plan student camps, conferences and workshops. A week for me might entail teaching English to 300 students, judging an English competition, participating in a Buddhist holiday, going to the local market, preparing dinner with my host family, playing soccer with the students and taking mesmerizing bike rides while getting eaten alive by mosquitoes. In the Peace Corps, they love to say that this is the toughest job you will ever love, and I agree with that so far.
What has been the most surprising or challenging part of the experience?
The most challenging part of my experience thus far has been the language barrier. Thailand has many different dialects, and don’t get me started on the different tones. You can end up telling someone “bad luck” when all you were trying to say was “beautiful,” or you might call someone a “horse” if you use the wrong tone. I’ve lost count of how many inappropriate words I have accidentally said because my tone was incorrect! That said, speaking the language is very important, as it’s the most effective way I can truly integrate into my community. Every day is a learning process and speaking the language is a challenge I know I will overcome.
What has been the most rewarding part?
I am not the same person I was eight months ago. Each day has been rewarding, even the bad ones. This experience has taught me the importance of enjoying what you are given and working hard for what you want. The most rewarding part of my Peace Corps experience thus far has been the acceptance of my host families. They treat me like their daughter and make me feel right at home. I couldn’t be more grateful for the unconditional love I have received from the Thai people.
How did your DePaul experiences prepare you for Thailand?
During my freshman year, I had the amazing opportunity to study abroad in Amman, Jordan, through DePaul’s FY@broad program. When I had to select where I wanted to study abroad, I had three choices: Mexico, Ireland or Jordan. I asked myself, “Which place could you never imagine yourself?” I have been to Mexico, and I may go to Ireland one day, but Jordan? At the time, I didn’t even know what continent Jordan was on! My reasons for choosing Jordan were the same as my reasons for choosing Thailand: I wanted to go to a place I knew nothing about.
The professors, classes and resources at DePaul also helped prepare me for the Peace Corps. For example, I had the opportunity to take a class inside Cook County’s Department of Corrections with DePaul students and inmates. That experience taught me how much of an impact one person can make in your life. I learned more about the inmates than they learned from me as their GED tutor. I learned that if I can be a resource to one person, why not be a resource to others in another country?
What advice would you give to those considering the Peace Corps or similar service opportunities?
Don’t wait for life to happen. When I found out that I would be living in Thailand for 27 months, I was terrified. Now that I’ve been here for eight months, all I can think about is how fast time is flying by. If you want something, make it happen. I quickly learned that Thailand didn’t need me, but I needed Thailand.