Since her graduation in May 2011, Vermont native Samantha Leonard has been busy in Boston working as a paralegal at a civil litigation firm. She’s also been volunteering at The Women’s Center, a broad reaching civil and women’s rights and support organization in Cambridge, Massachusetts. But with the New Year, Leonard will find herself far removed from familiar New England as she travels to the island of Grenada in the eastern Caribbean to begin a two-year stint as a Peace Corps volunteer.
She first became interested in the Peace Corps during high school. The interest resurfaced during her senior year at Vassar. “I deeply believe in using what skills I have to create a more peaceful and just world,” says the anthropology-sociology major.
Starting in late January, Leonard will begin training to become a Youth Developer. She will live with a host family to become immersed in the country’s culture and language. (English and French Creole are the working languages taught to Peace Corps volunteers.) Then in April she’ll be sworn into service and assigned to a community in Grenada, where she’ll live and work for two years. “I’m very excited about teaching and working with children and adolescents,” she says. “I’m also hoping to have the opportunity to either work with an existing art and theater group or start my own.”
While looking forward to the adventure ahead—including learning about a region with which she says she doesn’t have much familiarity—Leonard also faces some common apprehensions: leaving family and friends behind, being a stranger in another country, uncertainty about the exact nature of the work she’ll end up doing.
Leonard will join 47 other Vermonters currently serving in the Peace Corps worldwide. She’ll be one of 115 volunteers assigned the Corps’ Eastern Caribbean region. Currently, more than 9,000 volunteers are serving in 75 countries. Since its inception in 1961, the Peace Corps—which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2011—has had more than 200,000 Americans serve in 139 countries.
Looking farther down the road, Leonard has plans to attend graduate school to study either community development or sociology. But for now, her sights are set on the immediate task ahead. “Mostly, I’m focused on the next three years, and allowing myself to imagine the many possible paths that may come after.”
For more on Vassar and the Peace Corps, check out the article in the Fall 2011 issue of the Vassar Quarterly.
– Peter Bronski