The economic shutdown caused by the coronavirus brought life to a screeching halt for many people, but for two recent Illinois State University graduates serving on international Peace Corps missions, their worlds were turned upside down.
Zoë Amundson of Oak Park and Brad Christin of Crystal Lake are both back in the United States in self quarantine after their environmental sustainability missions were cut short by the global pandemic.
Christin spent 18 months in Paraguay before the global Peace Corps evacuations, but felt like he was just getting started.
“Unfortunately, Paraguayans didn’t really have an awareness of what was going on in the world,” Christin said. “Many people did not even hear of climate change. They didn’t know what it was.”
Christin set up a Jeopardy!-style tournament for ninth graders and arranged a waste management competition among schools before he was forced to leave nine months early.
“I was absolutely devastated,” he said. “We had many projects planned. There were a lot of people depending on me to improve the environmental education.”
As he left the South American nation, he could tell how social distancing guidelines and business closures enacted to prevent the conoravirus’ spread would decimate Paraguay's mostly agrarian economy.
“Many people are suffering because they lived paycheck to paycheck and they really depend on that income and they do not have any sort of savings,” Christin said. “It is hitting Paraguay very hard.”
Now staying with his parents under quarantine in Highland, California, Christin, 23, is entering a job market in which few are hiring.
“I was expecting to start the next year in a job because that is a good hiring season at the beginning of the year, and unfortunately it has been very difficult to try to get a response due to COVID-19,” said Christin, adding he may try to enter the Coverdell Fellows graduate school program offered to Peace Corps volunteers.
“Always have a Plan B is something I learned in this situation and be prepared for anything to happen because you never know what can happen in life,” he said.
Amundson's Peace Corps mission ended soon after it started. What was supposed to be a two-year experience in Panama ended when she was recalled from Panama just three weeks into her training.
Amundson said she was already under quarantine in the city of Los Portales when the evacuation order came.
“It was pretty shocking,” she recalled. “I was pretty confused, but I was like 'alright, this is what we need to do.' So I packed my belongings and was at the bus stop in the next 45 minutes and we were out in an hour and a half.”
Amundson said one of the hardest parts was saying goodbye to her host family.
“I loved my family a lot. We had a great time together,” she said.
Amundson, 22, has had lots of time to reflect as she continues her quarantine back home, but she wants to reapply to return to Panama, not knowing when or if that chance will come.
“I’m ready to be patient,” she said. “For me it’s pretty straight forward, I still want to do Peace Corps and I will absolutely hold out for that program,” she said.
If that doesn’t pan out, Amundson could be entering the work force two years ahead of schedule. She was planning to use her time in Panama to decide if her passion for environmental sciences would lead to her ultimate career choice.
Amundson may be forced to make that choice sooner than she had planned.
“It’s difficult, but flexibility and adaptability are going to be key in this process,” she said.
Amundson and Christin were among 20 ISU alumni were among more than 7,000 Peace Corps volunteers sent home due to COVID-19 fears, according to Beverly Beyer, senior associate director at the university's Stevenson Center for Community and Economic Development.
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