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Elliott Amkraut, who graduated in 2014 from Barrett Honors College and the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University with a major in Economics and a minor in Japanese, thought about pursuing a career in business. But a meeting with a Peace Corps recruiter put him on a path that led him to a world altogether different than the buttoned up environs of corporate America.
In fact, he ended up on the other side of the globe as a Peace Corp volunteer in Nepal. The Peace Corps is an international volunteer service organization established through executive order by President John F. Kennedy in 1961. The organization sends Americans abroad to help tackle the most pressing needs of people around the world.
“I first heard of the Peace Corps a long time ago, and I liked the way it sounded, but I would say I only became seriously interested after meeting a Peace Corps recruiter at a career fair in the MU (Memorial Union)”, Elliott said.
“At that time, many of my business honors student colleagues were lining up jobs and internships at well-known finance, accounting, and consulting firms. I wasn’t sure if that was the correct path for me, and it probably showed at the career fair during a few uninspiring conversations with job recruiters. When I talked to the RPCV (Returned Peace Corps Volunteer) at the Peace Corps booth, he gave me something to be excited about,” Elliott recounted.
The Peace Corps recruiter told Elliott he would be a good fit as an agricultural volunteer because of his previous experience volunteering for six months on farms in Japan through the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, a global network that connects farmers with volunteers who help with any number of projects, including planting, harvesting, and producing organic products for sale.
“At that moment, I recalled how my previous experiences traveling internationally, volunteering, and studying abroad had been the most rewarding of my life. I think that the timing of that meeting at the career fair was crucial and eventually led me to accepting this (Peace Corps) opportunity,” Elliott said.
Elliott’s 27-month Peace Corps assignment began with three months of training in the Kavre District of Nepal. After training, he moved to the Lamjung District. He has been living with a host family in the district for four months and is working on a food security project.
“My No. 1 priority at the moment is to finish something called a Village Situational Analysis, which is a report on local agricultural practices, demographics, economics, gender roles, and sanitation practices,” he said.
The report will be given to the Peace Corps office with which Elliott is working and to the Nepali government, and will be used as the basis for his main Peace Corps project.
While completing the situational analysis, Elliott has been dabbling in other projects that affect crop production and public health, including green manures, smokeless cook stoves for respiratory health, and off-season onion production.
“Nepal is largely a nation of poor farmers with low income and low yields, so we are hoping to help people grow a variety of crops for both income and personal consumption,” he said.
While Elliott is hard at work focusing on agricultural projects, he has taken time out to experience Nepal’s unique culture.
“In Nepal there are a huge amount of ethnic groups, each with their own culture, customs, festivals, religions, and language. While living with two host families of the Brahman caste group, I have had the pleasure of participating in the Dashian, Tihar, Holi, Shiva Ratri, and Nepali New Year’s festivals, along with a few weddings, a funeral service, a rice-feeding ceremony for a baby, and a variety of Hindu religious events,” he said. While each event is celebrated differently, one commonality is the slaughtering, butchering, cooking and eating of goats.
“There was one time where I climbed a hill with my host family to watch about 100-150 goats get slaughtered for religious reasons. We didn’t eat until the evening when we had climbed back down the hill, and we then danced and sang until about 2 a.m. in a Nepali drum circle. I was exhausted by the end of it, but it was a lot of fun. There were beautiful views of the Himalayas at the top of the hill, and everyone was excited to have me there,” he said.
Elliott has 20 months left on his Peace Corps assignment, during which he will continue working on his projects and mulling over what to do next.
“If I continue to enjoy living abroad as much as I have in the past, I will consider a career in the Foreign Service,” he said.
For now, he is reflecting on his service with the Peace Corps. “The Peace Corps has already been a fun and rewarding experience, but if you are considering joining, don’t expect it to be easy! You will be pushed way out of your comfort zone and will likely experience ups and downs like you have not felt in your life in the United States.”