Allison Freedman, top row, left, in Jordan


Jordanian Journal

To call Allison Freedman (SESP95) a stranger in a strange land does not even begin to describe her experience in the Peace Corps.

In 1997, she was among 29 volunteers in the organization's first group ever to be sent to Jordan. She was the only Jewish member of the delegation, sent to a country with a clear Palestinian majority, most of whom harbor deep-seated hostility toward Jews. The only people to know her true religious identity were fellow volunteers and Peace Corps administrators. She hid the fact from Jordanians she worked with and lived around.

Keeping the secret drained Freedman emotionally during her time in the country, but her service also uplifted her and gave her a deeper understanding of one of the world's most intractable conflicts.

"I certainly knew what the conflict was about, but I didn't really know anyone involved in it, so I had a really hard time being anti-anyone," says Freedman. "They were people, and I was going into the Peace Corps to help people."

Freedman worked at a school for the hearing-impaired about 35 miles south of Amman. She thrived there, enjoying the chance to use skills she learned in Northwestern's secondary education program. But keeping her religion concealed took its toll. At various times, all of the volunteers were accused of being Jewish. They faced pointed questions and frequent accusations. Freedman tried to avoid both, but eventually had to lie to protect her secret.

"I'm a really horrible liar. At first, it was kind of fun to make up these stories. Later, it ate me alive," she says. "I would hear people say some of the most gosh awful things, things that I couldn't respond to and still be an effective volunteer."

With less than a year remaining in her service, Freedman decided to leave. She wasn't alone. Of the 29 original volunteers, only half completed their two years. "I joined this apolitical, irreligious organization out to save the world, and I left for religious reasons," she says.

But the experience proved valuable. Freedman, now regional director for a Jewish Zionist youth organization in Denver, plans to write a book about her Jordanian journey. She also developed a perspective on the Arab world that's much different from most.

"There was no regret," she says. "I was so glad I did what I had done. I knew I would never have this experience again, learning about an Arab culture, being Jewish, but not having to do it as a Jewish person."

— K.M.

Rebecca Arnold, right, in Madagascar


Slowing the Pace

Hollywood is not a place usually associated with the U.S. Peace Corps. But Tinseltown can loom large in the lives of volunteers such as Rebecca Arnold (WCAS93), a well-traveled young woman who recently began her service in Madagascar, an island off Africa's southeast coast.

"In the places I've traveled to, it seems that the image of American people has come from Hollywood movies, the media and music videos," says Arnold. "Especially as an American woman, to show up with that sort of precedent can make it difficult."

Arnold is typical of many recent Peace Corps volunteers. She's lived abroad twice, teaching English in Turkey and Indonesia under the auspices of a student organization that uses exchanges to foster global understanding and instill cultural sensitivity in future business leaders.

The Peace Corps offered "the two things I was looking for — an overseas living opportunity and the ability to add some value to the world," she says.

After leaving her job at a Chicago-area magazine publisher last October, she trained in Washington, D.C., and Madagascar for her job as a health-communications adviser, helping the Ministry of Health educate people about nutrition, immunizations, prenatal care and HIV/AIDS. She also studied languages (French, Malagasy and a local dialect called Tanosy), technical skills, cultural orientation and how to stay healthy. "My goal is no malaria," she jokes.

Another goal is to slow down the pace of her life. "I'm so glad to be away from television, from Hollywood movies, from all the things the American marketing machine tells you that you need to buy and can't live without," Arnold says.

— K.M.