winter 2013 | st. Lawrence Universit y Magazine 3
Fina L t HOUgHt
THERE IS A QUINTESSEN-
TIAL MOMENT DURING YOUR
PEACE CORPS SERVICE WHEN
THE DRIVER LEAVES YOU IN A
CLOUD OF DUST, STANDING
AMID YOUR SUITCASES,
acquired electric stove and a variety of
Peace Corps-provided supplies, when you
question your sanity.
There is another moment, two years later.
You are saying goodbye to a good friend,
a Swazi woman dedicated to creating sup-
port networks for her country’s children
affected by the HIV epidemic. You meet
outside a South African fast food chain’s
outlet, share a cold drink and reminis-
cence. Suddenly you realize that you’ve
finally “gotten it.”
It was then, as I walked away from my
friend down the broken sidewalk in the small Swazi town where
I had bought my groceries, retrieved my mail and met up with
fellow Peace Corps volunteers to complain, share and exchange
support over the past two years, that I understood how my life
in snowy Canton, listening to lectures in Hepburn and grabbing
lunch at Dana, connected to this moment of clarity.
Six weeks after I graduated from St. Lawrence, I went straight
into my role as a community health HIV/AIDS educator in
Swaziland, a small southern African kingdom of roughly 1.2
million people. Going from a formal education setting to an
independent, free-form “job” in a foreign country was quite the
In the beginning, I felt ill-prepared for the task of edu-
cating my community about HIV. Sitting in meet-
ings with community leaders, representatives of
local NGOs (non-governmental organizations),
clinic nurses and many others, I initially
thought that I had bitten off way more than I
could chew. It seemed arrogant to think I had anything
to offer to them as a bright-eyed American college graduate.
It took time and experience to show me
how wrong I was. As I struggled through
my first year, learning names and the
handshake greeting, I slowly built up the
confidence to attempt the beginnings of
sustainable change. Projects started, they
foundered and they failed. But a few held
One of the most enduring aspects of my
time at St. Lawrence was learning to be
informed about a lot rather than expert in
a little. I was encouraged to seek out every
curiosity and develop each skill. I walked
away with the capacity to see beyond the
obvious, to think on my feet and to con-
sider all possibilities.
I can see how my St. Lawrence-inspired
inquisitiveness served me well in the Peace
Corps. It nagged me to go after project
ideas, like hosting a World AIDS Day
event. It assigned me to new roles and
challenges, such as co-managing the entire food budget for a
weeklong girls’ camp. And it pushed me to expand my network
beyond my Peace Corps-assigned counterpart.
Looking back at that last day spent with my friend, both of us
confident about the future of her work and the success of our
collaboration, I cannot help but think that those four years of
late-night studying and Quad lounging really meant something.
Holistic learning can apply outside the classroom; in fact it must.
I sincerely doubt I would have found myself on that fateful day,
scared silly outside my new home, had it not been for my
liberal arts education.
Moment of Clarity
by Katie McBurney ’10
Katie McBurney lives in Syracuse, N.Y., where she worked part-time during the
winter as a ski coach, with hopes of eventually entering the Foreign Service. She has
been enjoying her readjustment to American life by visiting friends, rediscovering
Thai food and looking for permanent employment.