The Ottumwa Courier

April 6, 2013

Ottumwan to teach in Indonesia through Peace Corps

MARK NEWMAN
Courier Staff Writer

OTTUMWA — It’s a chance to make a difference for people in a challenging environment and for himself.

Ottumwa High School graduate Elliot Higgins, 23, has joined the Peace Corps. His assignment: teach English to young people on the island of Java, part of Indonesia, one of the most populous nations on Earth.

“I’d be lying if I told you [my parents] weren’t worried,” said Higgins, who graduated from OHS in 2008.and last spring from the University of Iowa. “That’s only natural; I know it comes from a place of love.”

Just prior to his departure today, he told the Courier that he expects to be able to communicate with his parents if he can find Internet access. And unlike Peace Corps volunteers even 10 years ago, he thinks he’ll be able to do that.

“I’ve done a very limited amount of traveling, so this will be a totally new experience for me. I’ve only been outside the country once; last year, I went to Nicaragua,” Higgins said. “I thoroughly enjoyed being immersed in a culture different from ours. But they were clearly struggling. It’s one thing to see it on television, but to see it all around you, it becomes much more palpable.”

That was just a trip. This time, he hopes he’ll be able to make a difference.

“Throughout my time in high school and certainly in college, I derived a lot of satisfaction and fulfillment from engaging in community service opportunities. I saw the Peace Corps as a meaningful and significant way to continue [performing] service.”

He studied both political science and anthropology in college, each a subject which examines humanity in its own way. He’ll be exposed to experiences relevant to both, he believes.

“I will specifically work in the education sector. I tutored at [an Iowa] adult literacy center, and in Indonesia I will be teaching English to high school and junior high school students.  In Indonesia, education, I believe, is more [formal], authoritarian and a lot of memorization. Small-group work is a very foreign concept, I understand. I want students to be able think critically. I hope to be able to foster that.”

Will he change the way the kids learn?

“You have to strike a balance with their [format]. I don’t plan to go in there and unilaterally [enforce] an American style of education. I’m sure they have a lot to offer, too.”

He’ll integrate the things he experienced as a student and as a tutor.

“I’m really excited about the opportunities outside the classroom. Developing extracurricular activities outside of the classroom, to foster creativity and engagement.”

The Peace Corps proved to be very selective, he said.

“The application process is quite arduous. I started applying a year and a half ago,” he said. “They want people who can stick it out and represent the United States well, through some very different, and I’m sure, sometimes difficult circumstances.”