Renee Palecek is currently serving as a women’s and girl’s development facilitator with the Peace Corps in Morocco. Palecek is completing her master’s degree in sociology with a sequence in Applied Community and Economic Development through the Stevenson Center.
Palecek received her bachelor’s degree in anthropology with a double minor in religious studies and art history from the State University of New York at Plattsburgh. Those disciplines, combined with her graduate work in sociology, prepared her well for her work in Morocco.
“Looking back now, and in combination with studying at ISU, I can’t imagine a better academic foundation for Peace Corps,” she said.
Palecek’s decision to join Peace Corps was a combination of two factors: she had a desire to better understand the world and she was frustrated that people; women and girls specifically, can be disadvantaged simply due to where they are born and live.
“I found that Peace Corps could provide me with opportunities to travel and learn about other countries, as well as participate in raising and empowering women and girls,” she said.
Palecek currently lives in an apartment with her dog, Nora, and has found her days in Morocco full of unexpected challenges and rewards. When new to a country, a simple task like changing a light bulb can take days due to factors such as communication barriers, gender expectations, and norms around lunchtimes and business hours.
As a volunteer in the youth development sector, Palecek works at two women’s centers. She teaches preschool English, fitness and yoga, and a health-focused English class. She also facilitates a life skills class with a Moroccan counterpart where the women discuss complex personal and social issues. Currently, Palecek is working on the Girls Leading Our World curriculum with other Peace Corps Volunteers and their counterparts. Outside of her work at the centers, she is in the process of developing a women’s sexual and reproductive health manual.
During Peace Corps training, Palecek learned Darija, the common spoken Arabic language of Morocco. She also meets Moroccans who speak French or Tashlheet instead, which has been difficult at times. Palecek recently attended a training on Tashlheet, and she has had to learn how to communicate effectively while not speaking fluently. With patience, she has become part of her community: her walk home gets longer due to conversations with residents and friends along the way, and the women she works with request more and more fitness classes.
Peace Corps has positively impacted Palecek’s life by helping her learn to be more thoughtful and patient.
“Peace Corps has made me much more thoughtful. I am thoughtful about my words since I must take the time to translate into Arabic and thoughtful about my actions because I am seen as an example of healthy lifestyles, America, and Peace Corps itself,” she said.
She has become far more accepting of obstacles and life events. She knows the work will get done.
“Overall, Peace Corps has made me look at life much more sensitively,” she said.
Her time with the Stevenson Center and Peace Corps will impact her career after her 27 months of service. Her work with the Stevenson Center confirmed her interest in community development generally, while Peace Corps narrowed her focus to women’s health initiatives.
“I believe that both the Stevenson Center and Peace Corps have provided me with opportunities to develop necessary skills to work in the community development sphere, and I am so grateful to these programs because due to my participation in them, I have become confident in the area I hope to work in,” she said.
Through the Stevenson Center for Community and Economic Development, Illinois State has a robust 25-year partnership with Peace Corps:
- Coverdell Fellows program for graduate study after Peace Corps (plus a similar program for those with other kinds of experience)
- Prep certificate program for students interested in Peace Corps or other development work after graduation (also Friends for Peace RSO)
- Campus recruiter ready to share information about serving and applying
- Campus ambassador intern raising awareness and developing marketing skills
The best advice Palecek could give to anyone interested in the Peace Corps is: “Go for it!” The program has provided her with lasting and supportive relationships along with a strong network for her future. To those considering Peace Corps, Palecek advised talking to returned Peace Corps Volunteers and then, “Just apply!”
Megan Birk is the Stevenson Center’s public relations intern.