News

And now, Botswana is her destination

Friday, August 30, 2013

BY IRENE LABOMBARDE

Staff Writer

HOLLIS – Stephanie Pillion, of Hollis, loves foreign languages and traveling. She is also passionate about helping others, so she decided to combine the two by joining the Peace Corps.

She left in mid-August for Botswana, where she will spend the next 27 months living and working in a community to focus on outreach, social and behavior change in public health, hygiene, water sanitation and HIV/AIDS.

“I’m very excited to be in a new culture and to meet new people and learn a new language,” she said in a phone interview prior to leaving. “There are always going to be concerns but so far, just missing home and spending such a long time abroad, but I’m sure everything will be fine.”

Pillion, 23, graduated from Hollis Brookline High School in 2008. She said she first became interested in exploring other cultures after her biology teacher gave a presentation about his experiences in the Peace Corps. She studied both Spanish and French, wrote for the school newspaper, The Cavalier Chronicle, and participated in activities through the National Honor Society.

During high school, she also volunteered at work camps through the Hollis Congregational Church.

“Every summer we’d go for a week to a different part of the state or Canada and help low-income families,” she explained. “I reroofed a house once: That was interesting.”

Pillion attended Smith College, where she added Arabic to her growing list of languages. She was active on the school newspaper, and graduated with a bachelor’s in government in 2012. She earned a scholarship to spend summer 2010 in Taipei, Taiwan, where she lived with a host family and learned the Mandarin language.

She spent her junior year abroad in Hangzhou in the south of China, where she volunteered for an environmental NGO (non-government organization) promoting environmental awareness on a grassroots level, which she said mirrors closely what she will be doing in Botswana.

At the end of her year in China, Pillion spent the summer in London, taking classes in Oriental and African studies, and interning at the Center for Conflict Rights and Justice. She returned to Smith for her senior year, and after graduating, went to work as a litigation paralegal for New York law firm Hughes Hubbard and Reed.

“I thought about the possibility of getting a dual degree in law and diplomacy,” she said. “Because I’m interested in law, I wanted to first work in a law firm. I decided to stay for one year, and it turned out to be perfect because it took about a year to do all the applications and essays and get accepted in the Peace Corps.”

Skills and need

Pillion said she did not choose her assignment; the Peace Corps places volunteers based on their skill set and need. She also explained how acute the need is for health education in Botswana. She said the Peace Corps stopped sending volunteers to Botswana in the 1990s because the economy was doing so well their services were no longer needed. Since then, AIDS has become a huge problem and the country ranks as one of the worst in the world for outbreaks. Pillion said the president of Botswana eventually asked the Peace Corps to return.

She will first spend three months in Serowe in training, where she will learn about local customs, policies, safety and the specifications of her job. She will live with a host family so she can become totally immersed in the culture and learn the local language, Setswana. Many people in Botswana also speak English.

Once her orientation is complete, she will receive her field assignment, where she will stay for two years. It won’t be all work all the time, however. Pillion said that there are several day trips and outings organized, including a visit to a rhinoceros preserve. She hopes to go on a safari at some point, too.

When her stint is over, Pillion anticipates going to graduate school, with the goal of eventually working for the state department or something involving international relations.

Pillion plans on blogging about her experiences as a way to keep her family and friends updated. Others who are interested in following her adventures can subscribe to her blog at stephanieinthepeacecorps.blogspot.com.

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