Shannon McCray has always had a passion for teaching and traveling. On Sept. 25, the 22-year-old alumnus of the College will get to combine these passions when she embarks on a 27-month trip to the east African nation of Mozambique as a volunteer for the Peace Corps.
According to the official Peace Corps Web site, the Peace Corps is an independent federal agency of the United States designed to promote mutual understanding between Americans and the outside world.
As part of her service, McCray, who graduated in June with a bachelor’s of science in criminology and justice studies and African-American studies, will be teaching English to Mozambican students at the high school level and promoting HIV/AIDS prevention and awareness.
McCray entered the College as an education major but was pressured by her parents to switch her major to criminology and justice studies.
“They had always hoped I would end up in a position of great prestige like a lawyer,” McCray said, “but in the back of my mind I always wanted to teach.”
McCray became interested in the Peace Corps after talking to a recruiter at the College last year. After doing some research of her own on the organization, McCray decided that this was something she had to do. By February 2006, it was time to begin the interview process.
According to McCray, the road to entering the Peace Corps was long and arduous. As an African-American, McCray’s first choice of service location was Africa. She soon discovered that Africa is in high demand among Peace Corps volunteers and that the application process is very selective.
“My interviewer told me I might not get Africa because I had no teaching experience,” McCray said.
To bolster her application, McCray received tutoring at Princeton University and gained some experience teaching English as a second language.
When McCray received notice that she was chosen for Mozambique, she was very excited. Her parents had initially opposed the idea of their daughter living in a Third World country for over two years, but now they support her decision wholeheartedly.
“When (my parents) found out where I was going specifically, they knew it was serious,” McCray said.
Since McCray has been involved in volunteer work for many years, her friends were also very supportive of her decision and knew that it was right up her alley.
With her father serving in the Air Force, McCray is no stranger to living abroad. She was born in Turkey and has lived in Germany. For her service in Mozambique, however, McCray will need to truly assimilate into the nation’s culture and lifestyle. She has already started learning Portuguese, Mozambique’s official language.
For her first three months in Mozambique, McCray will be living in the home of a Mozambican host family. After that, she and the rest of the volunteers in her group will be split up throughout the country to carry out their designated teaching services. From then on, McCray must learn to live like the locals.
“We won’t have electricity, and we’ll have to walk several miles to work every day,” McCray said. “It’s no life of luxury.”
McCray also underwent extensive blood work and had her wisdom teeth removed in preparation for her trip.
When asked about her future plans, McCray expressed great desire to teach at the high school or college level. She hopes that the experience she receives in Mozambique will be a stepping stone toward her goals. She also plans to do volunteer work for as long as she is able.