Wheelock Student to Begin Peace Corps Service

April 29, 2013

Wheelock Student Karissa Hultgren is a Peace Corps volunteer

Karissa Hultgren is both nervous and excited about spending the next two years in Mongolia helping primary school teachers in the former communist nation reshape their education system.

"My goal is to bridge the gap between families and education, especially in a country where the education system is fairly new," said Hultgren, a member of the Peace Corps Master's International (MI) Program at Wheelock College. "What Wheelock has taught me is that there is a big connection between children's learning and their families."

Mongolia, which for decades had been a satellite of the former Soviet Union, underwent a peaceful revolution in 1990 that ultimately resulted in a democratically elected government and a transition to market economy. Hultgren said the country's evolving landscape gives her an opportunity to work with local teachers to apply everything she has learned at Wheelock over the past year while earning her master's degree in Educational Studies, with a focus on Organizational Leadership.

Peace Corps Masters International Program at Wheelock

The Peace Corps MI Program at Wheelock gives passionate, idealistic people who are interested in Peace Corps service an opportunity to get a master's degree from one of the country's premier teacher preparation institutions while also fulfilling their commitment to international service. The 30-credit program begins with about one year of courses completed on the Wheelock campus. Students then earn 8 credits of field study during their 27 months of Peace Corps service. The program concludes with a 1-credit Capstone course at Wheelock upon the student's return from service.

The first member of the MI Program at Wheelock to begin her Peace Corps service, Hultgren said she had always planned to include service as part of her career goals and the Peace Corps was a perfect fit.

"They provide you with a lot of help and support that other service organizations may not be able to," she said. "The Peace Corps really does a good job of helping a community without stepping over boundaries in those communities. You are really expected to use your own knowledge and experience, but also to find out what's involved with the culture, and use all of that to inform what you do with your program."

Hultgren said the MI Program allowed her to spend the yearlong Peace Corps application process earning a master's degree and gaining skills and knowledge that will be invaluable during her Peace Corps service and beyond. She said the MI Program coursework is challenging and focused and she received strong support from her Wheelock advisor Prof. Stephanie Cox Suarez, who is a Peace Corps alum, and others at Wheelock as she navigated the complex and often stressful Peace Corps application process. Another benefit to the program is that Wheelock's tuition (eight credits over two years) is waived while students are completing their Peace Corps service.

Advocacy on Behalf of Families

Hultgren eventually wants to become an international human rights lawyer, although she acknowledges her career goals could very well change as a result of her service in Mongolia. But whatever career she ends up in, she said it will definitely involve some kind of advocacy on behalf of families.

"Working with families will be my main drive," she said.

Hultgren said her only previous trip overseas was a two-week service learning trip to Italy as an undergraduate student at Emmanuel College, where she earned her bachelor's degree in English literature and secondary education. She said the extended stay in Mongolia will be a much richer experience.

"I'm really excited about seeing how another community really lives," she said. "Being thrown into an environment where I'm not a native and becoming part of a different community for a while, seeing how other people live and gaining respect for another community that's deeper than a two-week trip. I'm excited to see that world and use my master's to actually do the work, to apply what I've learned."

Follow Hultgren's Experiences on Her Blog

Hultgren will be writing regular blog posts chronicling the Peace Corps application process and her experiences overseas. Keep up with her adventures at http://bostonmongolian.wordpress.com

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