This new semester at Tulane brings a lot of exciting changes to the Peace Corps Program. Five of our students received their placements in the Peace Corps, we have a load of new students who joined the program, and we have a brand new coordinator, Mrs. Ann-Marie Yongho! Hailing from Chicago, Illinois, Ann-Marie is a returned Peace Corps volunteer from Cameroon who will be studying in the Global Health Systems and Development program. Read on to learn more about our new coordinator, and the exciting plans she has for our program!
Where are you from?
I am originally from Michigan and completed undergrad at the University of Michigan (GO BLUE!). I double majored in Political Science and Sociology. For the last 3 years I've been living and working in Chicago. I started undergrad thinking I would be pre-law and eventually go to law school. Blah! That lasted about 2 years, until I really got into my Sociology courses and the study of people. I focused on race relations in the US as well as African studies and when I studied abroad at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, I realized then that my passion and living and working in the developing world.
Where and when did you serve in the Peace Corps? What was your project area?
I served in Cameroon. I was an education volunteer and taught in the Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) program to francophone students. I lived in a small capital city of Bertoua in the East province and class sizes were huge so I had anywhere from 60-150 students in each class. I also ran an after school camp focusing on healthy sexual decision making and leadership development, and worked with rural teachers on how to incorporate health and wellness topics into the existing TEFL curriculum.
What was one of the hardest things about your Peace Corps experience?
Besides being away from my family for 2 years, the hardest part for me was the issues around being a white female in the developing world. There were a lot of cat-calls, marriage proposals and just general dérangement (Cameroonian slang for harassment). Eventually it got better as I got to know more people in my village, but I was looking forward to anonymity when I got home.
What was one of the most memorable moments you had in your village?
At the end of the school year I had all my 6eme (5-6th grade) students who had passes over to my house for a party. They were SO excited to come to my house and they all showed up in their best dress clothes, dress shoes and had their hair braided. One even brought me a flower she had picked. We just hung out and danced and played American board games and had an awesome time.
What is an example of an “only in Africa” story that happened to you?
Wow, again so many! Two stand out in my mind. Cameroon is SO corrupt and bribes are just a normal part of life. One day during my 6eme (5-6th graders) class, Kumalo, one of the class-clown types, could not pull himself together, so I kicked him out of class and told him to bring his machete to school tomorrow so he could do manual labor (only in Africa do you tell the bad kids to bring a 24 inch sharp blade to school!!). A few minutes later he knocked on the door and in the most serious voice I had ever head come out of his mouth, slyly tried to bribe me with 25 francs,( less than 1 penny), to get back into class. Funny thing is, that actually worked on some teachers.
Another experience involved eating at my favorite Anglophone restaurant when my sister came to visit. We were eating Achu, which is basically a thin yellow soup in a bowl of pounded banana's and coco-yams that you MUST eat with your hands. It's delicious! So I ordered and was trying to teach my sister how to eat soup with your hands when it came to our table. I noticed a small fly in my soup right about the same time as the waitress did and she quickly took her fingers and scooped it out for me. I said thanks and dove right in. The look on my sister's face was priceless. I had forgotten that it was probably not normal for someone to put their fingers into your soup let alone to scoop out a fly! It's amazing how you lose those American social graces very quickly! I finished every bite and would kill for some Achu now!!!
Do you think that Peace Corps experience is relevant to students who are getting their masters degrees?
Absolutely! I've now had experience working both internationally and in the states and I am excited to see how those experiences translate into the classroom.
What advice do you wish you would have been given either before or during your Peace Corps experience?
I wish I had been encouraged to work for a while and gain some experience before joining the Peace Corps. I graduated from undergrad in May and left for Peace Corps in June. I had a great experience and loved every minute of it, but ultimately I would have been more effective as a teacher (and believe this is true in any program) had I had some work experience first. It was definitely not your typical "first-job"!
What did you do after the Peace Corps?
I returned to the states in July of 2009, which was one of the worst times in history for finding a job. I was lucky to be hired by a small non-profit in Chicago working with youth and coordinating the prevention education department. It was a great transition back to the states and definitely impacted my decision to pursue my MPH. After I was hired, I realized that my Peace Corps experience was one of the reasons they called me back. They had over 200 resumes for this position and Peace Corps was what stood out to them!
What drew you to Tulane University?
I was applying to schools all over the country, and a few things went into my decision to study at Tulane. First, my husband and I LOVED New Orleans when we came to visit. He is from Cameroon and New Orleans has such a unique vibe that at times feels much more like Cameroon than any other place we'd been in the US, and certainly different than Chicago! There are also so many RPCV faculty members at Tulane, and having that Peace Corps connection was important to me. Finally, everybody knows, that for international public health, Tulane is one of the best!
What do you like about New Orleans?
I like the vibe. Its super chill and everyone is SO friendly. Even those people who were born and raised elsewhere have figured out that southern hospitality thing! The music scene is amazing and I'm looking forward to exploring all that New Orleans has to offer over the next few years!
What do you hope to accomplish in the office this year? What are some goals that you hope you will achieve during your time there?
I hope that I am able to be a strong support system to those looking to serve and those overseas. I would also love to incorporate some of my experiences and expertise into the monthly seminars, including LBGTQ Peace Corps experiences, and a discussion about race and gender as a PCV.