by Cherice Bock
Editor, Whole Terrain
In addition to an excellent editorial board made up of practitioners and academics from around the country, Whole Terrain benefits from the passion, wisdom, and infusion of new energy from masters and doctoral students in the Environmental Studies Department at Antioch University New England (AUNE) each year. With this school year drawing to a close and another one beginning, we are at a time of transition here at Whole Terrain, saying goodbye to our Project Assistant, Chelsea Coombes, and welcoming new staff members.
Coombes leaves us to begin a new adventure with the Peace Corps, so we wanted to share a bit of her story as she embarks on this next stage of her journey. She brings with her a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice with a concentration in environmental policy and psychology, and she’s been working on her master’s degree in Advocacy for Social Justice and Sustainability in the Master’s International Program at AUNE. As Whole Terrain’s Project Assistant, Coombes worked on community outreach, event planning, social media, and networking, providing excellent support and coordination for our team’s efforts. Coombes hopes to focus on disparities in the public health system after she graduates.
In keeping with Whole Terrain’s emphasis on reflective environmental practice, we asked Coombes to reflect on where she’s been and where she’s going, and how it relates to her environmental concerns.
Whole Terrain: Where are you going for Peace Corps, and what will you be doing there?
Chelsea Coombes: I am going to Kosovo, located in Eastern Europe, to teach English. I will be partnered with a counterpart who currently teaches primary school English. We will be working together to combine teaching styles while also learning each other’s cultures. This Peace Corps service is connected to my degree. Through the Master’s International Program at AUNE, I get to pair my service with my masters, instead of the traditional route of taking on an internship.
WT: How did you first become interested in working for the Peace Corps?
CC: I have been interested in the Peace Corps ever since high school, when I began to learn about the program. During my time in undergrad at the University of South Florida, I interned at our Peace Corps recruiting office. We helped students learn about the Peace Corps, held community events, and worked on both applications and resume skill building. I also worked in the Master’s International Program office at AUNE and was able to help students pair their degree with a suitable Peace Corps location, allowing me to build a stronger passion and road map for myself.
WT: What do you have to do to get ready for your Peace Corps service?
CC: Oh, there is so much that has to be done in preparing for the Peace Corps! Medical tasks must be completed in a given timeline. The Peace Corps encourages us to take classes online, for which they provide access. These classes include safety tips, small cultural trainings, and health information.
As a masters student, I am required to submit a program plan. This allows me to stay enrolled. Antioch and Jason Rhoades [Master’s International Program Coordinator] have done an amazing job getting students prepared. We had multiple workshops, and meetings with returned volunteers who live in the area.
But, most importantly, I have had to learn to relax and not overthink this upcoming experience. I have had many emotions through this process, but the strongest ones have been happiness and excitement. Learning to process these emotions has been the most important thing I have done to get ready.
WT: In what ways do you hope that your training at AUNE will help you in your work in-country?
CC: I have met such inspiring people who have taught me strong skills that I will take not only to my service, but to my life. Taking courses before my service has really allowed me to grow as a person. I learned that community is important, and that you can create this community yourself. It’s about feeling at home with those around you.
I have also learned that education is key to advocacy, and my Peace Corps service will be a place where I can use what I’ve learned in the classroom about advocacy for social justice and sustainability. I feel that learning about a new culture will allow me to gain a different perspective on solutions to our hardest environmental concerns. By learning from others, I will better be able to teach stronger lessons that will be sustainable into the future.
But most importantly, I learned that I can trust and believe in myself. During my first semester at AUNE, I was intimidated by my peers and teachers. However, I learned quickly what I am capable of and how strong I can be. With the help of my AUNE community, I was able to grow into a strong and dedicated leader, who has narrowed down her passion and understanding of advocacy.
WT: As you reflect on your time working for Whole Terrain, what stands out to you that you’ll take with you into this next phase?
CC: Working for Whole Terrain taught me so much. Rowland Russell [Whole Terrain’s Managing Director] trusted me with responsibility and was patient with the amount of time I needed to learn and grow. Working alongside him, I learned to develop a stronger voice and became more confident in my ability to present myself. What I will take with me from my work at Whole Terrain, other than lifelong friends, will be the ability to remain calm and strong under pressure, and the confidence needed to present myself to others.
From all of us here at Whole Terrain, thank you, Chelsea Coombes, for your dedicated work for this journal, and we wish you all the best as you continue your journey.