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Through the Peace Corps, this Wichita woman hopes for ‘a wider perspective of the world’

Morgan Shetler beach.jpg
Courtesy photo
Morgan Shetler, 26, a graduate of Campus High School in Haysville, is among the first Peace Corps volunteers to return to overseas service since the onset of the pandemic. She will serve as a youth development volunteer in the Kingdom of Eswatini, in southern Africa.

In March 2020, the Peace Corps suspended its global operations and evacuated nearly 7,000 volunteers from more than 60 countries. Now the agency is asking volunteers to return and trying to recruit new ones.

Morgan Shetler knew she wanted to join the Peace Corps from the moment she started hearing her parents’ stories.

Her mom and dad, Machaelle and Jesse Shetler, volunteered as teachers in the Polynesian Kingdom of Tonga in the early 1990s.

“I grew up hearing all of the stories and experiences that my parents had, and it was always just something … that I wanted to add to my bucket list,” Morgan Shetler said.

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Courtesy photo
Morgan Shetler's parents, Jesse and Machaelle Shetler, served in the Peace Corps in Tonga in the early 1990s. Family stories about their time there inspired Morgan to pursue Peace Corps service herself.

Now she’s doing it.

The 26-year-old from Wichita is among the first Peace Corps volunteers to return to overseas service since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In March 2020, the agency suspended its global operations and evacuated nearly 7,000 volunteers from more than 60 countries. Now, the Peace Corps is asking volunteers to return and is recruiting new ones.

“We’re trying to be very careful and selective and making sure that the countries are ready for the volunteers,” said Peace Corps spokeswoman Diana Calloway. “It is a slow rebuild, but … we are moving at a pace to ensure everyone’s health and safety.”

Because her parents served in the Peace Corps, Morgan Shetler is known as a “legacy volunteer.” She used some of her down time during the early days of the pandemic to research and write essays for her Peace Corps application.

She recently traveled to the Kingdom of Eswatini in southern Africa — the country formerly known as Swaziland — to begin three months of training and then two years of service. She’ll work with children and teens and help lead an HIV prevention program.

“This has always been a dream of mine, to meet new people and to learn a new language, and to … gain a wider perspective of the world,” she said.

Established by President John F. Kennedy, the Peace Corps is an international service network. At the invitation of governments around the world, Peace Corps volunteers work alongside community members on local projects in the areas of education, health, agriculture, environment and economic development.

“The willingness of all Americans — men and women, young and old — to serve in the Peace Corps … is one of the most encouraging manifestations of the American spirit,” Kennedy said in 1961.

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Courtesy photo
Morgan Shetler
Morgan Shetler shot this photo shortly after arriving in Eswatini for her Peace Corps service. Eswatini, formerly known as Swaziland, is a small kingdom in southern Africa.

Since its start, more than 240,000 people have served in 142 countries.

But COVID affected recruitment, said Calloway, the Peace Corps spokeswoman. When the agency evacuated volunteers, nearly 50 of them were from Kansas; now there are only seven, with about a dozen more in the application or onboarding process.

“We’re hoping to get those numbers back up,” Calloway said. People who apply by April 1 could begin their global assignments this fall, she said.

Morgan Shetler said she knew nothing about Eswatini when she got her assignment but researched online and through social media.

“I know that they are a monarchy, which is super interesting,” she said. “It’s a super teeny-tiny country. I Googled a bunch of people on TikTok and stuff like that. It’s a rich culture, and I’m very excited to be a part of that.”

Morgan Shetler portrait.jpg
Courtesy photo
Peace Corps
Morgan Shetler, who earned her degree from Kansas Kansas State University, will spend the next two years volunteering for the Peace Corps in Eswatini. She’ll work with children and teens and help lead an HIV prevention program.

During her first three months in the country, she’ll learn about the language and culture. After that, she’ll be placed with a local family. She said the past few weeks have been hectic.

“Trying to figure out how I’m going to fit everything on the packing list into two 50-pound bags,” she said, laughing. “It’s an incredibly fast whirlwind. It’s been insane.”

Unlike when her parents served, Morgan Shetler will be able to stay in frequent touch with friends and family back home.

“The Peace Corps now requires you to have a cell phone, so … we will have access to technology and social media,” she said. “My parents were like, ‘That would have been nice!’”

Peace Corps service isn’t easy, but it has lots of benefits, Calloway said. Volunteers get a living stipend and vacation time. They also earn a status similar to military veterans that gets them access to graduate school scholarships and preferred hiring for some government jobs.

“It’s definitely a huge gain, especially to place on your resume that you’ve got global experience,” Calloway said.

Morgan Shetler is excited but apprehensive.

“I’m a little bit worried about my language skills. I tried to learn Spanish, and that didn’t work very well,” she said. “So I’m hoping I don’t make a fool of myself and say the wrong thing or mispronounce anything.”

For more information about the Peace Corps and details about the application process, visit www.peacecorps.gov/apply.

Suzanne Perez is a longtime journalist covering education and general news for KMUW and the Kansas News Service. Suzanne reviews new books for KMUW and is the co-host with Beth Golay of the Books & Whatnot podcast. Follow her on Twitter @SuzPerezICT.