When most people graduate from college, their attention turns to using their newly developed skills to secure gainful employment, but for Natalie Smerkanich, who recently graduated from the University of Vermont, the road less traveled has far more appeal.
In a matter of days, Smerkanich will embark on a 27-month journey with the Peace Corps, in which she'll abandon all the luxuries of home in order to provide aid and community service to the people of Micronesia.
"I'm going to be teaching English and doing community development work," said Smerkanich. "I'll be working with their health, diet and fitness as well. It's a chance to invest myself into a new community, get to know people and let it all change me without resisting."
While attending the University of Vermont during the spring of 2011, Smerkanich went on a spring break trip to Denver, where she worked with an alternative high school. The schools director happened to be a Peace Corps volunteer, and he asked her if she had ever given any thought to joining.
"I hadn't ever given thought to joining the Peace Corps, and I had no idea what I was going to do after graduation," said Smerkanich.
After several months of deliberation, Smerkanich ― with the full support of her family ― decided to fill out an application, in the hopes of becoming a volunteer with the Peace Corps. The rigorous screening and application process took nearly an entire year, and required the writing of multiple essays, three outside recommendations, and months of medical, dental and legal work.
Having met all the requirements and having finished all the paperwork, Smerkanich received an invitation to go to Micronesia, though she only had seven days to decide whether to take the assignment. Realizing the opportunity, she jumped on it and accepted the offer.
"Community service has always been a big role in my life, so this is a perfect next step," said Smerkanich.
Now she's preparing to head out for three months of training, and from there, she'll head to Micronesia for two years. Smerkanich added that she's not nervous, and her goal is to let the experience happen without placing any type of expectation on the mission.
"I think we go in with good intentions of wanting to change other people, but I think in the end, my goal is just to let the experience happen and live in the moment," said Smerkanich. "For the first time in my life, I don't have to be anywhere else, which is really amazing."
Smerkanich will return from her journey in August of 2014.
Perkiomen Valley Patch would like to congratulate Natalie on her acceptance into the Peace Corps, and wish her a safe and enjoyable journey.