Senior elementary education major Sabrina Jaffer was just accepted into Peace Corps to teach English in Malawi. Passionate about volunteering, Jaffer is the first student to finish the Peace Corps Prep program, which launched in September 2016.
Jaffer is originally from Geneva, in the west suburbs of Chicago. Although initially hesitant about remaining in Illinois for college, she was drawn to Illinois State’s teaching program and overall atmosphere. Community involvement was already an important component of Jaffer’s life. In her teens, she participated in regular family mission trips to Haiti that inspired an interest in advocacy.
“I just saw a ton of need for people advocating for students who couldn’t advocate for themselves or for kids who couldn’t,” observed Jaffer.
Her interest in elementary education and desire to work with children stemmed directly from these volunteer experiences in Haiti. She worked in a first-grade classroom during her senior year in high school, which helped cement the decision to pursue a career in education.
“I knew definitely with Haiti and then once I studied abroad that I wanted to do international teaching for sure,” Jaffer said.
Jaffer was the first Illinois State student to study at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. During her semester abroad, she engaged in many extracurricular activities, such as the Surf Club and volunteering to tutor children. Jaffer found the university to be both challenging and a positive experience. She took classes on world religions, poverty, development, and globalization with a focus on Sub-Saharan Africa, while learning some Afrikaans and a tribal language.
“Because it’s such a good school, there’s people from all over Africa, so it wasn’t like I was the odd one out not being from South Africa. A lot of people were from Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Mauritania, all these different places. It made me feel more comfortable that not everybody was a local or had been in Cape Town their whole lives,” Jaffer said.
The experience highlighted the importance of adaptability, a skill she will use in her upcoming Peace Corps service.
Peace Corps will allow Jaffer the opportunity to gain international teaching experience. She was attracted to the time commitment of two years, which might make others hesitate, because it allows for a total immersion into the culture. As an active volunteer, Jaffer wanted something long-term and structured. She also likes the intentions behind Peace Corps.
“I like that Peace Corps is invited into countries, because I’m a big advocate for not putting your hand in something that you weren’t really asked to, especially when it comes to like Westernized culture, sometimes thinking it’s the best way,” said Jaffer.
Jaffer will serve in Malawai in the education sector. In addition to teaching English, she will coordinate with teachers on planning lessons. She will also be involved in other projects, including HIV awareness and gender awareness.
“I knew I wanted to apply for Peace Corps. I knew I wanted to do some sort of international teaching, whatever that looked like, and I had known I wanted to do that since I was younger, and so with Peace Corps Prep, I knew it would prepare me well and help me with my application,” Jaffer said.
Peace Corps Prep is an undergraduate program offered by the Stevenson Center that allows students to use experiences and classes to strengthen different professional skills. Jaffer appreciated the opportunity to connect what she had learned to what would be useful in Peace Corps service.
“It was really cool to see how all these classes that I’d taken for education, all these classes in South Africa, had really prepared me for this,” Jaffer said.
Jaffer will depart for Malawi around June 5, 2018. More information on Jaffer and her adventures can be found at Redbirds Rising.
Sarah Aten is the Stevenson Center’s public relations intern.