Seeing the world with Bradley

June 7, 2013

Jena Barjenbruch ’10, who double majored in international studies and French at Bradley, is finishing up a two-year stint in Guyana as a Peace Corps volunteer. Barjenbruch, who is serving as a community education promoter for grade schoolers, writes about how Bradley helped her travel from rural Nebraska to South America.

By Jena Barjenbruch ’10

Having grown up in a small town in rural Nebraska, I sought a university that would let me see the world. I found that at Bradley University and, thanks to my professors and coursework in the Institute of International Studies, my interest in international development blossomed.

During my junior year, I had the chance to participate in the International Environment and Development section of the Washington Semester Program (WSP) at American University in Washington, D.C. There, I visited many organizations that work directly in the field of international development, such as Save the Children, USAID, International Monetary Fund and more. I was able to utilize my knowledge gained in the classroom and D.C. in the field as I traveled to West Africa for a three-week study abroad experience in Ghana, where my class toured the country and met with villagers and visited non-profit organizations and national parks.

Because of my major in International Studies, I chose to learn French. Seeking to improve my French, Bradley endorsed a second off campus semester, this time in Rennes, France. Throughout this semester, I lived with a French host family and completed grammar, oral expression, written expression and cross-cultural courses at L’Universite d’Haute Bretagne.

Not only was Bradley the reason I found my interest in international development, it was also why I pursued the topic. My unforgettable experiences turned my desire to help the people of the world into a reality. After graduating, I applied to U.S. Peace Corps. I became a Peace Corps volunteer, as a community education promoter, and was placed in Guyana in February 2011. After two months of training, I settled in a midsized, semi-urban community on the coast and started developing a literacy program for remedial students grades 1-4 at a primary school.

The program’s goal is to teach students struggling with reading and writing and bring their performance back up to their actual grade level. Over the past 20 months, the program’s focus has been largely on phonics as many of the students still struggle with letter-sound association. At the end of each semester, I re-test my students using a reading diagnostic test to gauge their progress, and every term I have had 80-90% improvement rates.

Another primary project I have organized with the help of teachers, the PTA, community members, and local businesses is a weeklong summer camp for 80 to 100 children in grades 1-6 from my primary school. The camp focuses on fun and motivational learning to keep the children occupied during summer break. It includes four stations: story and craft time, educational games, music/dance, and physical education with a minor emphasis on nutrition and environmental care.

The past two summer camps have been extremely successful and have brought domestic and international news coverage to my small primary school in Guyana. Because of the many bodies of water in Guyana, I also teach swimming lessons to children and adults in my community as a secondary project. After two years serving as a Peace Corps volunteer, I can’t imagine having spent the last 24 months doing anything else. I have learned and truly become a part of Guyanese culture.

Without my Bradley education and my study abroad experiences, I would have never seen the world the way I do now — as a place filled with opportunities to experience, to learn, to appreciate and to give.