BROOKFIELD – Joe Daniels is leaving his hometown of Brookfield for the Peace Corps, just weeks after another Brookfield resident, Hallie Kyrias, returned from her two-year Peace Corps adventure.
Although both of the young adults, who’ve never met each other, made the decision to leave their American lives behind to help people they’ve never met, each came to that decision in different ways.
Daniels, 22, said his love of volunteering sparked his interest in the Peace Corps.
“In high school, I was a member of Interact Club,” Daniels, a graduate of Lyons Township High School’s Class of 2009, said. “[The club] went on three spring break work trips down south. In college, I have also gone on three spring break work trips, and have also found other places to volunteer.”
For Kyrias, 25, it was the travel bug that initially brought her to the Peace Corps. She studied abroad in New Zealand during college.
“It was there that I fell in love with travel, adventure and meeting new people from all over the world,” Kyrias said. “I traveled to Samoa, where I met Peace Corps volunteers for the first time, and after talking to them about what they do and how they live, the idea of joining the Peace Corps was planted in my head.”
Daniels too talked with Peace Corps volunteers before committing to becoming one himself. He has a friend serving as an environmental volunteer in Nicaragua who told him all about the experience. The more he heard from her, the better he felt about going.
Ready or not, Daniels departed for Nicaragua on Tuesday. He said he’s worried about overcoming the language barrier in his Spanish speaking host nation.
If Kyrias’ experience is anything to go off of, Daniels has good reason to be wary.
“The hardest adjustment was the language,” Kyrias said. “I went down there with pretty mediocre Spanish, and so being instantly surrounded by it and going through intensive Peace Corps agriculture and Spanish training all day everyday was very mentally draining at first.
Kyrias said the rest of the the major changes – including eating Panamanian food and using a dug-out latrine – were much easier to handle.
Given the environmental realities one faces while living in the Panamanian jungle, like Kyrias did, you might have thought she would have said the hardest adjustment was having to deal with tarantulas, snakes and scorpions. But Kyrias, unfazed, said those things were “[not] anything a machete couldn’t take care of.”
In addition to casually macheteing creatures that most only encounter in their nightmares, Kyrias also dealt with parasitic fly larvae growing in her head for a month. But Kyrias seemed to take it all in stride.
“I never felt particularly threatened in a way that I couldn’t handle, although my mother would tell you differently,” Kyrias said.
Daniels said he has been told by Peace Corps veterans to prepare himself for a life without the bare essentials for a young American, namely no Internet or running water. Also, that he should be less concerned with material things and to expect to be the victim of some petty thefts.
“I’ve prepared myself for more dangerous conditions than in the United States,” Daniels said. “But when you really think about it, you can be robbed on the streets in Chicago, too.”
Daniels said, just hours from the beginning of his adventure, he felt a mixture of being really excited and a bit nervous.
“I’m definitely going to miss chocolate,” Daniels confessed. “I’ve become slightly addicted, and it’s hard to come by there from what I understand.”
Kyrias said as hard as it was to leave America, it was also difficult to come back.
“When I left site it was a bit depressing, because after two years of living there I had made some strong relationships,” Kyrias said. “They threw me a big going away party and we were all crying by the end.”
While on-site, Kyrias said she led several projects to better the lives of the community, including establishing several coffee farms and constructing a fish farming tank. She was proud of her work, but was sad that she wouldn’t be there to see the fruits of her labor. She said the tanks won’t have fish to harvest for at least six months and the coffee harvesting operations will not begin for at least three years.
When asked what Kyrias will take away from her two years in Panama, she was introspective.
“I’ve gone through some of the most physically and emotionally challenging trials of my life,” Kyrias said. “But now, I feel more confident to say that I can handle anything that comes my way, because I’ve most likely been through something more demanding.”