In conjunction with the 60th anniversary of the Peace Corps, Shanelle France ’11 reflects on her service in Lesotho and her journey to becoming a teacher.
Even as a high school student, Shanelle France ’11 was interested in joining the Peace Corps. At Hobart and William Smith, she found a community dedicated to civic engagement, opportunities to become a civic leader, and support as she pursued her goal of global citizenship and service. France says her HWS mentors were instrumental in helping her prepare for the Peace Corps. Surrounded by “a wealth of knowledge, experience and support” as a student at the Colleges, France says, she is grateful for the advice of President Emeritus and Former Director of the Peace Corps Mark D. Gearan L.H.D. ’17, P’21, Professor of Africana Studies Thelma Pinto and Director of the Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning Katie Flowers.
At the Colleges, France also found many opportunities to widen her volunteer and travel experiences.
“As a William Smith student, I was able to get engaged with the broader Geneva community and volunteer for programs like Neighbor’s Night, the Community Lunch Program, America Reads and The Boys and Girls Club,” she says. “Attending a college that emphasized and encouraged civic engagement allowed me to gain valuable volunteer experiences.”
While majoring in Africana studies, and earning her dual-teaching certification in primary and special education through the Teacher Education Program, France seized the opportunity to study abroad. “Cape Town, South Africa undoubtedly changed my life. I will forever be grateful for the service-learning abroad program I attended and the emphasis on global citizenship that HWS upholds,” she says.
France says graduating with her dual certification set her apart from other Peace Corps volunteers and helped her land a position with the Lesotho College of Education as a Distance Education Professor.
When France arrived in Lesotho, she was greeted warmly. “The Basotho people who live in Lesotho welcomed us with songs, shouts of joy and gifts. The gift that my host family gave me was a cooked pig snout and ear for dinner. Mind you, I had been a vegetarian for at least seven years prior and my host mom, dad, sister and nephew were watching me with anticipation while I tried to navigate the way in which to eat the pig parts placed in front of me. I managed to work my way through as best as I could.”
The same night, France encountered a bat in her bedroom, used the remaining power in her iPod, adjusted to her new diet and experienced a night without electricity or running water.
“And that was how my Peace Corps service started and remained: always exciting, adventurous, unpredictable,” she says. “My overall Peace Corps experience could be compared to the scariest, most exciting roller coaster ride. Many people describe their Peace Corps experience as ‘the most difficult and challenging job you will ever love’ and I must agree.”
In her role as a Distance Education Professor, France evaluated and observed teachers, both formally and informally, in order to provide constructive feedback. She also organized and administered monthly weekend classes for college students on topics including classroom management techniques and strategies, learner-centered activities, and music theory. Additionally, France taught a life skills course on self-esteem, HIV awareness and prevention, communication, and assertiveness for sixth and seventh grade students at three local schools.
When France returned to the U.S., she attended the George Washington University Graduate School of Education and Human Development through a fellowship program for returned Peace Corps Volunteers. Now, she has returned to Geneva, N.Y. as a teacher at Geneva Middle School.
She says her abroad experiences encouraged her to think creatively and problem solve, and provided insight during the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
“My advice to anyone who is interested in joining the Peace Corps or a career in education is much like Nike’s slogan…Just Do It! Don’t let fear or uncertainty paralyze you from doing what you want. Being a Peace Corps Volunteer and an educator is extremely challenging but equally rewarding. Go for it and feel free to reach out if you need someone to talk to.”