By Taylor Jedrzejek
Amid all of her excitement over the opportunity to travel abroad, there was one nagging question that kept popping up in the mind of Randi Epstein: how exactly do I pack for a trip that lasts two years?
But even with that burning question, nothing could be done to quell her excitement. After all, Epstein is one of the first volunteers to get a chance to travel oversees for service as the Peace Corps begins to restart it’s outreach programs following the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s super exciting,” Epstein said. “I think, as a volunteer, that it’s awesome to see the world opening up again and I know all of the volunteers are excited to be out on the ground helping the world again.”
On March 14, Epstein, a resident of Troutman, will board a flight for the southeastern African nation of Zambia for a 27-month stint in the country with a position in the environmental sector within the community that she is assigned.
A recent graduate of American University with a degree in international studies with a focus in environmental stability and global health, Epstein has been working toward this opportunity since she was in high school as a participant in the Adventures Cross Country summer programs.
She was on a small island in Fiji when she first met a member of the Peace Corps.
“That was my lightbulb moment,” Epstein said. “I realized that I could do this kind of thing — traveling the world, learning new cultures and helping people — for work.”
When she returned home, she began looking for colleges that offered Peace Corps prep programs and found American. During her time in high school and college, Epstein traveled to more than 20 different countries.
“I have always loved traveling and it’s something my parents encouraged from an early age,” Epstein said. “But I also love doing these kind of service projects as a part of my travels because I’m not just going as a tourist, I’m actually able to interact with and experience everyday life in these places.
“Even with as much as I am able to bring my own knowledge with me on these trips to help people, I am able to learn from them tenfold.”
Upon her arrival in Lusaka, the capital city of Zambia, Epstein and the rest of the volunteers on the trip will spend roughly three months with her cohort completing further training and preparations before moving out to their assigned community for their two years of service.
Once at the community, Epstein will be working with the local population on promoting a healthy environment by teaching them about aspects of soil management and reforestation to help them build a more sustainable lifestyle. Some of those goals also include diversifying crop production and bringing more women into the agricultural workforce.
“The first year is all about community assessment,” she said. “I want to be able to teach them the things that will be most helpful to addressing the specific needs of their community.”
She also looks forward to be able to fully integrate into the community, including the thing she sees as her biggest challenge: learning the language.
“I love the opportunity to learn a new language and culture,” Epstein said. “The most amazing part of these experiences is the exchange of knowledge.”