January 29, 2019
At a time when most seniors began new jobs or prepared for graduate school, B. James Foster packed his bags for a two-and-a-half-year commitment to the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone.
"It was very different from anything I'd ever experienced," Foster said. "But it was somewhere where I could really make a difference."
Foster taught math to secondary students in the West African republic that in the past three decades has endured a brutal civil war, an Ebola outbreak and devastating mudslides. Though he initially had some reservations about his assignment, after some research, Foster looked forward to a transformative experience.
"I'd never taught before, but their needs are so great in Sierra Leone that I knew I'd be able to help them in a meaningful way," he said. "I was happy to bring my limited experience from a different part of the world to show that things can and will get better."
His acceptance into the Peace Corps was the fulfillment of a long-held dream. Initially inspired by a church youth leader, Foster said it was his semester-long Global Opportunities experience in India that cemented his decision to pursue service.
In India, Foster volunteered at the Hyderabad Council for Human Welfare, tutoring and playing with impoverished children.
"They just ate it up. They were enraptured by having foreigners at their school," Foster said. "It inspired me to realize this is what I want to do."
Amazingly, Foster knew one familiar face when he landed in Africa—India Reynolds '17, who was also serving the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone.
"The odds that two SU alums were both serving in Sierra Leone were ridiculously low," Foster laughed. "India filled me in on her experience and what it was like living there. She gave me great advice."
After his service was cut short due to security concerns, Foster went to work as a training coordinator at the Conservation Corps of the Forgotten Coast in Apalachicola, Fla. Foster, an economics major, hopes to enroll in a graduate school program, perhaps one in Fairbanks, Alaska, that focuses on economic development among rural, native populations.