Essay # 1
Growing up, my parents demonstrated by example, that it was important to give back to the community and to try and improve the lives of those with whom you worked and lived. I’ve lived, studied and worked in other cultures both in the United States and abroad and have been able to integrate myself into the community and culture by showing respect and developing an understanding and appreciation of the people and their customs.
As a child, I was exposed to the tremendous diversity of our country in the 1950′s and 60′s as we traveled to visit my parents’ families at their military stations. When I became a teenager, my family moved to England where I attended a local school and had the opportunity integrate into the culture and travel extensively in Europe. While in college, the Viet Nam War was generating a significant need for more military pilots. Becoming an Air Force pilot provided me an opportunity to serve my country and eventually hone my leadership skills. After the military, starting a family and new career were my focus, but I still found time to help teach youth sports, serve on a church committee or lead a workplace fund-raising campaign. In 1991 I discovered Habitat for Humanity and became a regular volunteer. I learned many new skills in the construction field and became a House Leader where I led a team of 10 to 20 volunteers on a typical work day. The challenge at Habitat is to produce quality work with volunteers of wildly different experience levels, allowing each person to be a contributor while creating excitement for the Habitat mission of ending poverty housing.
While contemplating what to do after retirement, serving with the Peace Corps emerged as a tremendous opportunity to both share my life skills and learn new skills in helping improve the quality of life for someone who as we say at Habitat, needs a hand up, not a hand out. After meeting my wife Anne, I discovered she was as enthusiastic about the idea as I was. As new retirees, we are both at a time in our lives where we can commit without reservation to serving abroad where ever we can help.
Undoubtedly there will be challenges. Physical challenges bring on more aches and pains than they used to, but they can also be a reward for the effort needed to bring about change. Being placed with your life partner means having a support structure to work through frustrations, brainstorm ideas and practice those new language skills.
I’m ready for the challenge, just tell me when and where.
Essay # 2
I have been fortunate in having many opportunities to experience other cultures and communities. While in high school, my family spent a year in England. I went to a local school and like any teenager, I didn’t want to “stick out” so I tried to integrate myself into the community by becoming as “native” as I could as soon as I could. I quickly realized that my accent was always going to be foreign, I was not going to be as good at soccer and the differences in the school systems would be a challenge. As it turned out, rugby was a lot like football, I had the head start in basketball and once I got caught up in French class, school turned out okay. I found a way to integrate myself into the community and culture by just being myself and showing respect and appreciation for all our similarities and differences.
As an Air Force pilot traveling around the world, I was often involved in the local communities, whether it was renting a house on the local economy, being a tourist, getting hotel rooms, eating at a local restaurant or providing relief efforts during a local tragedy. Just being polite and smiling always went a long way even if the situation was less than friendly or the language barrier prevented meaningful communication.
While a Habitat House Leader in Milwaukee, I faced a challenge when a new prospective homeowner was a refugee family from Somalia. Both the men and women worked at the house to achieve their “sweat equity” hours. Their knowledge of English was limited and I didn’t know their language at all so the task for the day of hanging drywall became a great lesson in non-verbal communication. I did lots of demonstration with head nods and thumbs-up for approval and more demonstration when things went wrong. We celebrated with the universal “high-fives” and in the end, they learned a new task and I became a better teacher.
My life experiences have prepared me well and will help me integrate into the host community and culture and succeed in building trust and confidence.