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Global visions: Sequim grads greet the world
by Joan Worley
For the Sequim Gazette
Experienced tourists rack up souvenirs and photos. Four young world travelers from Sequim — Alice Hastings, Audrey Lichten, Melissa Karapostoles and Ian Steward — are busy building a sense of themselves and their role in that world.
From Greece to Ghana
After graduating Sequim High School in 2011, Alice Hastings, daughter of Michael Hastings and Martha Keller, went on to study English and history at Gonzaga University in Spokane, but her studies have taken her to first to Greece and now to Ghana.
She spent the past semester in Greece via a Gonzaga program so that she could study history “at the birthplace of Western civilization.”
“I got to learn about ancient Greeks while looking at the artifacts they produced, I walked on streets made of broken classical pottery. I studied painting and creative writing for fun,” said Hastings of her study abroad on Paros, an island about four hours from Athens.
“This paradise allowed my creativity to flow and develop,” she wrote. “I came back from Greece more aware of the roots of our civilization, appreciative of art and passionate about creating beautiful things.”
Hastings plans to be a teacher: “I hope to be able to use my experience to better teach in the classroom.”
The adjustment to Greece, she said, was surprisingly easy.
“I hardly felt homesick at all, mostly because I was living in paradise, and I made friends very easily with the people in my program,” she said. “Being abroad taught me a lot about myself. I learned how to go with the flow and not stress over the small stuff. Before I left I was nervous because I didn’t know anyone on my program. Getting along with everybody so easily and making friends with Greeks not only made me more independent but also made me less inclined to worry so much about what people think. I learned to take what life gives you and make the best of it.”
Now Hastings is studying and interning with the Future Leaders program in Ghana, aided by Gonzaga and CIEE, a study-abroad organization.
“I want to be a teacher, but I am also passionate about traveling and experiencing culture in different parts of the world,” Hastings said. “I want to teach overseas and so when I heard about Future Leaders — an organization dedicated to bringing education to those that cannot afford it in Ghana — I immediately signed up. It is exactly what I want to do with my life: bring education to those who can’t otherwise afford it.”
As an intern at Future Leaders, Hastings is a one-to-one tutor and will have the opportunity to teach classes as she gains more experience.
“At the moment, I sit with children who need or want special attention,” Hastings said. “I’m working with the younger children, teaching them basic addition and subtraction, writing and reading and some phonics. Every day I’m so surprised with how focused they are, how grateful they are to come to school and how ready they are to learn. It’s a truly inspirational place.”
Art and Maori culture
Audrey Lichten, daughter of Carol and Don Lichten, is a 2011 Sequim High School graduate now at Linnfield College in McMinnville, Ore., She went through her college’s application and interview process to spend a semester at the University of Waikato in Hamilton, the largest inland city in New Zealand.
A photographer, Lichten chose Waikato because of the North Island’s stunning landscapes and because she would be closer to the Maori culture of New Zealand.
At Linnfield, Lichten majors in electronic art, an interdisciplinary program that includes fine arts, computer science and mass communications. Thinking of her major, she enrolled at Waikato in a course on Maori art.
There was a bit of culture shock, she said, in finding that she was the sole student in the art class who spoke not a word of Maori. Fortunately she had also enrolled in a Maori language and culture class. She also learned new concepts of art and found the experience made her “more accepting of new types of design from other cultures.”
Used to a busy schedule of classes, track, cross country and work at Linnfield, Lichten found herself at loose ends occasionally at Waikato, where she had a light course load and no other commitments. With only one other Linnfield student at Waikato, she found she needed to “branch out” for herself, a challenge that brought her new friends.
An advantage of staying in Hamilton was its central location. She could make quick weekend trips to different parts of the island.
Though she and her new friends did a lot of hiking, her favorite side trip was to the coast. On the Coromandel Peninsula she discovered hot water beaches and the thrill of “digging into the sand” to create pools of warm water from thermal hot springs below. At Cathedral Cove she found herself literally in Narnia – a scene of the site opens one of the films based on C.S. Lewis’ novels.
She returned to the U.S. with a broader sense of culture, a new eye on graphic design and a stronger confidence in her ability to reach out and create her own community.
‘Amerikatzi’ in Armenia
For Melissa Karapostoles, daughter of Caity and Burt Karapostoles, and a 2010 graduate of SHS, spending her first year in Armenia with the Peace Corps, the great adjustment was adapting to “a very collective society” in which “there isn’t much of a concept of personal space.”
Working as a teacher of English for grades 3-12 in Martuni Village, Karapostoles stretched to adapt to a culture which has “no differentiation between the words for ‘alone’ and ‘lonely’ because that’s the same thing for them.” She found her host family very understanding and a constant source of support. “Once I was able to move out into my own place,” she added, “I was able to establish patterns with my neighbors which allowed me my space but didn’t leave them feeling ignored.”
She faced a similar adjust concerning time: “In America, we tend to believe that time can belong to a person (e.g., ‘you’re wasting my time!’), while Armenians believe that time belongs to everyone. So, if you’re half an hour late to a meeting because you were having coffee, it doesn’t matter. It took me about six months, but I’ve finally embraced that mindset. It’s going to be difficult to adjust to being on time when I return stateside!”
The impetus to serve in the Peace Corps came partly from family: Karapostoles’ grandparents had wanted to serve but could not be sent abroad because their daughter (Melissa’s mother) was just a baby. Karapostoles’ middle school principal, who had served in Africa, was another role model.
“What ultimately tipped my decision,” she said, “was that I wanted to challenge myself to become a better, more worldly person. Not many people can say they dropped everything in their lives for two years to serve people they’ve never met before and that adventure just seemed too good to pass up for me.”
After she had taken her B.A. in philosophy at Washington State University, Karapostoles sought out extra experience teaching English as a foreign language in order to make herself a better candidate for the Peace Corps. Asked to choose her preferred sites, she listed Africa, Asia and Latin America, so being assigned to Eastern Europe was a surprise. She leaped into an optional online language course before leaving the U.S. Her “in-country” training included hours of language instruction in the morning and technical instruction each afternoon.
“My biggest challenge in learning Armenian was that I was very timid at first of making mistakes and shy to use my new language skills. However, there are only one or two other English speakers in my permanent village so I had no choice but to get over that quickly!”
Her host family helped greatly, especially her host “sister,” Nune, who was “a bridge to the rest of the community.”
“She taught me how to use the public transportation and even would call the driver for the first few months to make sure ‘her American’ had made it on to the bus,” Karapostoles said. “A Peace Corps staff member visited recently and commented on how well we were able to communicate together in Armenian after only a few months. She replied, ‘Ba vonts! Menk kuyrikner enk!’ (‘Of course! We’re sisters!’)”
Everyday activities proved challenges to find her strengths: “The first time I began to feel at home was in my first encounter with a taxi driver who tried to charge me 2000 dram (about 5 USD) for a ride that I knew should be 600. I knew what the price should have been so when I responded to him in Armenian, he was shocked enough that he couldn’t even argue back and gave me the regular ‘local’ fare.”
Karapostoles still has some anxieties. She conscientiously blogs about the tendency to compare herself with other Peace Corps volunteers and wonder if she’s doing enough for her students. But she has made a home for herself and has made friends of the people around her. She recently took her first trip ‘abroad,’ to Nepal, and has been presented with a kitten to share her apartment.
When her stint in the Peace Corps ends, Karapostoles plans to take a graduate degree with a focus on social justice theories.
‘We work side by side’
Ian Steward, son of Doug and Sherri Steward of Sequim, graduated from Sequim High School in 2013. He took his first overseas trip about a month ago, courtesy the U.S. Army. PV2 (Private E-2) Steward is part of the 2nd Infantry Division (“Second to None”) now serving on his first station, in South Korea.
A mechanic for Bradley fighting vehicles, Steward gets up every day at 5:30 a.m., goes to physical training, then works until about 5 p.m.
“The Koreans are a big part of our day,” Steward said. “We work side by side with their soldiers and Katusas (Korean nationals in our army). Most shops and dining facilities and such are run by the locals.”
Korean citizens have adapted to the U.S. presence. In fact, Steward said, “So far my biggest surprise is how much our culture has influenced this country. They love us (most of them) and they love the things we do and have.”
In terms of Army stations, that cordiality makes things for Steward and his colleagues “a lot more relaxed, but with higher expectations. We are more of a family here because there are not as many of us and we are so close. But we live by a higher set of standards to maintain a sense of order, discipline and peace. We need to keep our image in good stature, for their government and ours.”
Part of keeping up the image with local people, Steward added, “includes treating them with their courtesies instead of our own. Here it is not normal for a person to hold the door open for other people. And here old people are hardcore and deserve the utmost respect.” Steward’s own personality, he said, has become “more respectful and well-mannered. I left most of my habits and craziness at home.”
“A major puzzlement to me,” he admitted, “will always be the language barrier. A lot of Koreans know and understand English but have a difficult time speaking it, so trying to hold a conversation can be taxing.”
Keeping active off duty is important. “Off duty,” Steward said, “ I go explore around post and get to know where I am better. But recently I’ve also enjoyed going on hikes on the mountains around our base.
Soyosan is a big tourist attraction and is an amazing mountain/ridge line to climb.” The mountain is also home to Buddhist shrines and many waterfalls.
Steward still has strong ties to Sequim. He is married to Mersadeaz Allie, another 2013 Sequim graduate. “We handle the separation pretty well,” said Steward. “She goes to cosmetology school so she’s kept busy. We have managed to figure out the time difference so we can communicate frequently. We never fight or have doubts.”
The Army has awarded Steward a $120,000 scholarship to continue his own education after service.
“I do miss Sequim,” Steward added. “It is always my home and where my family is. But this place is also home, and these people, these soldiers, are my family.”