Since her graduation from Ross School, alumna April Sygman ’12 has worked toward building a career that will make a positive impact on the world around her and beyond. April is one of 161 Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) working in Uganda. As a literacy specialist in Kitgum, a municipality in the northernmost region of Uganda, she works at a primary school located on the grounds of the local prison. Her classes are populated by inmates’ children and neighborhood youths, and though she mostly teaches phonics to her students, April has also provided them with extensive malaria education and conducted HIV and AIDS awareness programs for her students and the community.
April, who attended Ross School from the fifth grade on, has credited her teachers with shaping her experience as a Cosmo. Her French teachers, Monsieur Richard Dunn and Madame Claudia Travers, as well as Cultural History instructor Kenneth Sacks, offered her new perspectives on world issues and insight into different cultures, deepening April’s desire to experience the world firsthand. Science teacher Patty Lein changed the way April viewed the classroom, and she also forged extensive familial relationships with teachers Matthew Aldredge and Shelby Raebeck. Carrie Clark (now co-director of academics at Ross), shared her experiences as a returned PCV and world traveler, with April, instilling in her a sense of adventure.
“I can easily say I was fond of each and every one of my teachers at Ross,” April said.
After learning about the Peace Corps in the eighth grade, April looked forward to her opportunity to join the organization post-college. She felt that the experience would align with her passion for travel and abiding wanderlust, as well as prepare her for an intended career in elementary education.
In addition, service to others has been a common thread throughout April’s life. Like Ross’s motto, “Know thyself in order to serve,” the school motto of the College of Charleston, her undergraduate alma mater encourages students to use service to fortify their communities as well as better understand themselves, and April has taken both messages to heart. “While I may not know myself entirely yet—I’m only 23, after all—through [the Peace Corps], I’m learning about myself in order to better serve my community and myself,” she said.
April says one of the common misconceptions about those who join the Peace Corps is that they are going into this field for the sole purpose of aiding others. Those who’ve never served often fail to realize that the PCVs receive as much as they give. “The most rewarding part of my experience has been the relationships that I've created,” April said. These friendships with her fellow volunteers, expatriates, and Ugandan nationals have been extremely helpful during her integration into Kitgum.
Still, her transition has not been without its challenges. “Service is hard in ways I couldn't have previously imagined,” April said. Working within another culture, one that uses corporal punishment in schools and has alternative views on equality, has been trying. Some of the most powerful items in April’s toolbox for handling these differences have been Ross School’s Core Values.
“I apply all of the Ross Core Values while serving in the Peace Corps,” April said. “I show respect to my community members and Uganda at large every day in some way, shape, or form. I’ve shown courage in moving halfway across the world to face challenges and adventures at a level of uncertainty no one could measure. I demonstrate cooperation by working with my counterparts, despite our vast differences. Compassion is an important value in my life in Uganda, and one of the easier ones for me to embody, as I find it effortless to provide children with a seemingly limitless supply of it.
“I employ integrity by remaining true to myself in situations I find hardest. I am responsible for my students at my school, my actions, and those of others serving in Uganda, as we represent the United States for the duration of our stay. A year into my service, as my initial expectations of Uganda, the Peace Corps, and myself continue to evolve, I find mindfulness. Lastly, I find gratitude in myself, in my community, in the children I work with, in my fellow PCVs, in my family and friends, and mostly in my reflections on this wondrous experience.”