Loyola University Chicago

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On a mission to help others

Loyola among leaders in Peace Corps volunteers

By Gillian McGhee  |  Student reporter

The night before she walked across the stage to receive her degree in May 2012, Margaret Rusch received a life-changing phone call. After going through an extensive application process her senior year, Rusch was invited to be a Peace Corps volunteer in Cambodia.

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For the third consecutive year, Loyola made the cut for mid-sized universities that produce the most Peace Corps volunteers, coming in at No. 16 on this year’s list.

Rusch, now 24, is among the hundreds of Loyola alumni who have joined the Peace Corps after graduation. There are now 18 undergraduate alumni serving in the Peace Corps all across the globe, and 444 have served since the organization’s inception.

Given Loyola’s Jesuit mission, it comes as no surprise that graduates are taking a leap of faith to help others.

“The Jesuit education, the emphasis on service, and the endless opportunities to reach out to the community—all of those built up my passion for helping others,” Rusch said.

Rusch, who arrived in Cambodia two months after she graduated, is serving as a health educator in a rural village there, teaching the community about water sanitation, nutrition, and reproductive health.

Fellow Loyola graduate Eric Dean said his time at the University prompted him to serve in the Peace Corps as well.

“Loyola was one of the biggest driving forces for me [to join the Peace Corps],” said Dean, also 24, who returned from his two-year service trip to Cameroon in July.

Dean’s Loyola education was made possible by the generosity of others, so for him, joining the Peace Corps was his way of giving back. He cites Loyola President and CEO Michael J. Garanzini, S.J., as a strong supporter and inspiration for his work in the Peace Corps.

“He really is a man for others,” Dean said.

Lindsey White, a 2013 graduate, has known since high school that she wanted to join the Peace Corps. She is serving in Ndengeza, South Africa, and experienced first-hand the country’s reaction to the death of Nelson Mandela. Her small village held its own memorial service and, she said, the overwhelming grief illustrated just how much Mandela meant to South Africans.

But Peace Corps service—despite being extremely rewarding and opening people’s eyes to the world around them—comes with its own set of challenges.

Dean, for instance, fell ill during his first week in Cameroon due to a lack of access to clean drinking ­water. More difficult, however, were the vast cultural differences he faced each day.

Dean served as a K-12 teacher, and corporal punishment is commonplace in Cameroonian schools. Distraught by the practice and having his students tell him that was the only way they could learn, Dean introduced a “whole new approach” to education.

“I told them, ‘I can be your friend. I can be your mentor,’ ” he said.

Apart from the occasional slips of Cameroonian phrases, Dean says he is just now starting to feel at home in the U.S. after returning several months ago.

“I miss Cameroon every day,” he said. “I would love to go back.”

Rusch likes to refer to her time in Cambodia as an “experience of extremes.”

“I have had some of the most touching moments I will ever have,” she said, “yet this has also been the most isolating and lonely experience in my life.”

Rusch still has a few months left in Cambodia, and although she is excited to come home, her dedication to being a person for others has made this experience the best adventure of her life.

“I feel like I will never run out of stories to tell,” she said.