I was 16 when I created my first Gmail account with the handle that read “amanda4peace.” I know it sounds silly, but I truly believe that email handle started launching me towards a life in pursuit of peace (whatever that means). In my 16-year-old mind, I’m sure I linked the word “peace” with being a “cool, hippie chick,” but the word “peace” has come to mean so much more to me in my adulthood than the simple, trendy label it was to me in my youth. It all began with the questions that came in around my email handle – “Why would you choose  amanda4peace? What are you doing for peace?” and all the other questions that would float in from judgy, high schoolers. Well, that caused me to begin to ask those questions to myself. Peace had to be more than what the cool music I listened to said about it, and it had to be more than the feeling you were supposed to get when you smoked weed. “What even is peace?” “What did peace mean to me?” “Why was I attracted to stories of conflict and genocide in places of the world I had never heard of?” “How did I feel about conflict occurring in the world that I knew?” “What did I think I could do about it?” Well these questions led me to research and discover the Peace Corps (it had the word “Peace” in it so that meant I would automatically love it, right?) during my junior year of high school, and I wrote a blog on my Myspace page, declaring my intention to join the Peace Corps one day. I didn’t realize then and there that I’d forget all about that plan completely, until one day in the far future, I would find myself falling in line with the destiny that I had I set out for myself, when I would apply and be accepted as a volunteer for Peace Corps Malawi.

Anyone that knows the work of Peace Corps Volunteers realizes that we aren’t necessarily doing explicit peacebuilding work, but this is not where the power of the Peace Corps lies. The Peace Corps is powerful due to its structure of supporting its volunteers to build relationships with host country nationals, and to support them in integration efforts in order to create strong bonds, which in turn, support community development. Of course, there’s a diplomatic reason for all of that, but let’s focus on my reason for wanting to do the Peace Corps. I love people. I love building relationships with people. I love hearing people’s stories and I love telling my story. I love communicating in a shared tongue and I love working through challenges with a team of people. The Peace Corps sounded appealing to me originally because of the ability to label myself as a “Peace Corps Volunteer” (a better option than to just be a cool, peaceful hippie chick) and the opportunity to live in a new country, but it ended up helping me discover my inner passions, skills and abilities in building relationships with a variety of different types of people. The Peace Corps is the reason I consequently found myself as a graduate student at the Middlebury Institute, which in turn, helped me discover the field of Conflict Resolution and Peacebuilding. Or, I should say, helped move me along down the path towards my proper destiny.

I have done more personal development and self-growth this year than was even possible during my Peace Corps service (and let me tell you, there is A LOT of time to reflect and grow when you’re in the Peace Corps). I suppose that leads me to my expectations of the Summer Peacebuilding Program. I expect to grow, to reflect, to challenge myself, and to sculpt out important aspects of myself for my professional and personal life. I expect to make connections and build relationships with peers, colleagues, and experts in the field. I expect to have some difficult dialogues and I expect to feel a lot of emotion as I am pushed to evaluate my values and beliefs. I expect to feel highs and lows and everything in-between as I go through this. I expect to dig deep and to process some of my own conflicts and connect them to various external conflicts. I expect to gain even more knowledge and perspective, building off the foundation that I have begun building during my first year of graduate school.