Thursday, August 7, 2014

Grad student welcomed home after Peace Corps service

Graduate student Samantha Straus is home after 27 months of Peace Corps service in The Gambia, West Africa.

"I have reverse culture shock," Straus told professors and friends at a welcome-back luncheon Aug. 7.

Samantha Straus is presented with gifts upon her return to UAF. Tony Gasbarro, Peace Corps coordinator for UAF, is at left.
Straus left The Gambia in June, then visited her mother in Arizona before embarking on a two-week road trip to Alaska with another returned Peace Corps Volunteer. She arrived in Fairbanks two weeks ago. While in The Gambia, Straus missed everything about UAF and Fairbanks, she said.

Upon returning she discovered that friends had moved on with their lives in the two years she was gone. "You have to re-find your place," Straus said. "You have to remind yourself it's all relative."

Even though she struggled with hunger and food scarcity during her assignment, she kept her commitment and is glad she did. At the lowest point, she lost 17 pounds.

She said, "I will remember the relationships I had in The Gambia. I called my host family yesterday and my sister was crying so hard she couldn't talk. I will always remember them and be grateful for them. The people treated me with respect."

During fall semester, Straus will write her thesis about forestry management in the community where she served. "It will be about how to utilize the forest," she said. "There is too much pressure on the forest and unless people manage it and plant trees they are going to lose it." She hopes to share her paper with the Peace Corps and the minister of forestry in The Gambia.

Straus is a student in the SNRE Master's International Program, where students combine Peace Corps service with earning a master's degree in natural resources management.

She will give a public presentation on her Peace Corps experiences this fall.

"The Peace Corps is the hardest job you will ever love," Straus said. "I had to learn to navigate things alone."

Further reading:
SNRE student's beekeeping project stimulates interest in forestry in The Gambia, SNRE Science and News, March 10, 2014

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