Since 1961 when President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps, 254 graduates of Gustavus Adolphus College have served in the preeminent international service organization of the United States. Helping to continue that tradition of Gusties volunteering abroad to tackle the most pressing needs of people around the world is Kristina Fosse ’13.
Fosse is serving her 27-month commitment in China where she is teaching English as a foreign language at a political science and law university in Lanzhou. She teaches about 250 students a semester in courses such as Spoken English, Writing English, and Western Culture.
“The cultural experience, language learning, and volunteerism components of being a Peace Corps volunteer are what motivated me to join,” Fosse said. “At Gustavus I volunteered as an English Language Learners volunteer where I predominately worked with Somali women in the St. Peter community. I love the unexpected joys volunteering brings. It is something that I will continue to do throughout my life.”
Fosse is in the classroom teaching between 12-16 hours per week and is also responsible for developing the curriculum for each class she teaches as well as informal and formal assessments. Fosse is also responsible for creating opportunities for her students to practice their English outside of the classroom.
“During my office hours, I have anywhere from five to 15 students come to my apartment and we talk about different topics for about an hour,” Fosse said. “It is a great time for them to practice their English outside of the classroom in a more relaxed environment. Sometimes instead of discussing in English, we discuss in Chinese, which allows me to practice my Chinese language skills and creates more solidarity between my students and I.”
Fosse also has two secondary projects that she is currently working on that benefit her students. The first is an English library project that the previous Peace Corps volunteer at Fosse’s site started. The library currently has about 200 books in English that students can checkout. Fosse’s goal is to work with her current students to create a sustainable, student-led English library. Fosse’s other secondary project is a women’s group she has started for her sophomore students.
“The purpose of the group is to provide a safe environment for all of us to discuss what it means to be a woman in today’s world,” Fosse said. “More importantly, it is a chance for my students to discuss what it means to be a Chinese woman in today’s world. We will do some team building activities as well as leadership and self-confidence boosting activities.”
At Gustavus, Fosse earned her bachelor’s degree in sociology and anthropology. In an interesting twist, Fosse’s faculty advisor, professor Patric Giesler, served in the Peace Corps in Brazil. Fosse first had Giesler as a professor during the spring semester of her freshman year for a course called Anthropology of Religion. Fosse felt challenged by Giesler and also felt rewarded by how much she learned in the course.
“I took as many courses as I could with Patric, and each course was more difficult than the last. He knew how to push me to dive deeper into what we were studying. I knew I wanted to study anthropology before I even entered college, but I didn’t really know why until I was sitting in Patric’s classes,” Fosse said. “The fact that he served in the Peace Corps was another reason why he served as such an important mentor to me. I was able to talk with him about my interest in joining the Peace Corps and later he was able to help me as I started the application process.”
Fosse said that along with her academic experience in the Sociology and Anthropology Department, she also views her time as a student employee in the College’s Center for Servant Leadership (CSL) as a crucial part of her four-year Gustavus journey. Fosse said that employees within the CSL, such as Jill VanOsdol and Kristen Walpole were important mentors who helped her explore her academic and career interests.
“Working in the Center for Servant Leadership was the best part of my time at Gustavus. I loved going to work every day,” Fosse said. “I enjoyed helping those who came into the office however I could. Working there also had the benefit of knowing what the center has to offer. Without working in the CSL and being so close with Jill and Kristen, I would not be serving as Peace Corps volunteer here in China.”
As a Gustie serving in the Peace Corps, Fosse knows she is following in the footsteps of many alumni who have made a difference somewhere in the world by making the same 27-month commitment. Fosse said that it is no accident that so many Gusties have chosen to serve in the Peace Corps in the past.
“Gustavus does a great job at opening people’s eyes when looking out into the world. You learn how to see things in not one, but many perspectives,” Fosse said. “Gustavus’ curriculum challenges you to think in new ways. There is also a strong emphasis on service-learning at Gustavus. The Peace Corps is just that: a service-learning experience where you look at the world in new perspectives. My time and experiences at Gustavus helped me make this dream of mine come true.”
While Fosse is in China to serve others, she has become quite aware of the fact that her 27-month experience will benefit her greatly in the future, particularly when it comes to global awareness.
“Being able to learn about my students’ lives has been a highlight of my service. When my students and I get together, our conversations often focus on cultural differences and why they exist,” Fosse said. “A lot of that centers around family life and what growing up is like in the United States versus China. Learning about my students’ lives has become really important for me because it will help me better understand Chinese culture.”
February 23 through March 1 is designated as Peace Corps Week, which celebrates President Kennedy’s establishment of the Peace Corps on March 1, 1961. During this annual event, the Peace Corps community celebrates all the ways that Peace Corps makes a difference at home and abroad and renews its commitment to service.