Story by Wyatt Williams, Hallie Funk, Kaitlyn Winchester, Catherine Amos
Photo by Brooke Miller
When 2011 graduate Chelsey Carr joined the Peace Corps, she told them, “I will go anywhere in the world, and I will do anything.”
Carr had wanted to join since elementary school. “I found out about the Peace Corps when I was eight years old. I knew I wanted to do something that mattered.” Her passion is helping young kids and learning different cultures. When she graduated from college, she resolved to apply.
The application process was long and arduous. Her first application was denied, but Carr didn’t give up hope. She applied again and was approved to go to Myanmar; however, soon after, she received an email asking how she felt about transferring to Moldova.
When Carr talked about the moment she decided to go to Moldova, she said, “‘Where is Moldova? What is this country?’ I had never heard of it, and I paid attention in history class.”
She was forced to talk herself out of her hesitation. “I was looking at it, kind of having a mental freak out- do I say yes, do I say no, what do I do?- and I was like, ‘This is so dumb. Obviously, I want to do this’.”
“This amazing, motivated young girl has grown into an outstanding socially conscious young woman. She is an inspiration and an excellent example of going out and getting the life you want,” said English teacher Karen Mayer-Sebastian, who taught Carr in high school.
Determined, Carr waited months just to have her medical history cleared; then, she spent 10 weeks in a training program to prepare her for the years she would spend in Moldova.
In addition, she had to learn how to speak Romanian- “one of the hardest, if not the hardest, romance language to learn,”- in order to communicate with the people she would meet. Her family supported her through the entire process, down to the day she left. “My brothers and sisters were extremely supportive,” said Carr. “I couldn’t have done it without them.”
In June of 2017, she arrived in a small Moldavian village, where she started her career teaching students the English language. During her visit, she made many relationships with the other members in her group. “Relationships are super important in Peace Corps. Everything is about relationships,” said Carr. “Without good relationships, it makes it hard to serve for two years.”
She created meaningful bonds with the other members of her village and the surrounding community, and they accepted her as one of their own.
Carr said, “They keep telling anyone who comes, ‘Ea este a noastră,’ which means, ‘she is ours.’ And it just shows how much I belong to the community now.”
Outside of teaching English, she also held a dance camp for kids and participated in many of the Moldovian holidays. These holidays included International Women’s Day and Paste Blajinilor, a day similar to Easter. “Every Saint day is a holiday, and you can’t do laundry on a Sunday.”
Mărțișori, the first day of March, is also one of the most important days for Moldova. It signifies rebirth. They celebrate with food and wear red and white “mărțișor” pins on their shirts.
Carr also noted that “food is a symbol of friendship.” “Masa,” meaning meal, is when friends and family get together and have a large meal. Foods include Sermale, which is pickled cabbage leaves, rice, wheat, and carrots. Another food they have is Plăcintă, like a pierogi, or a dumpling filled with cheese. Carr said that vegetables are very common because of how agricultural Moldova is. Her advice for anyone joining the Peace Corps is to “be open, be flexible, and try to expose yourself to as many cultures and opportunities as possible.”
The biggest lesson Carr has learned is to “be confident in who you are, but not arrogant.” Carr has been in the Peace Corps for two years and three months. As with any situation in which you are far away from home, there are some difficulties. Carr said the hardest part is being away from her nieces and nephews. She missed out on many of her family’s birthday parties and American holidays. “Not being able to go to their baseball games and ballet recitals, it’s difficult.”
Carr said it was hard for her to come back to the U.S. and see how things have developed: America’s struggle with shootings, the changes in the government, and gender inequality. Beyond the Peace Corps, Carr plans on promoting gender equality, especially in Moldova. She said, “My end goal is to work for the United Nations.”
Carr’s journey isn’t over yet. She signed a one-year extension with Peace Corps, so she’ll be returning to Moldova to spend more time with what has become her community. Her opinion of Moldova has changed drastically since she first received the email about being transferred. The best part about it, she said, was “Embracing the unknown, because here I was really stressed about my future.” She hadn’t known what she was going to do with the rest of her life.
“And so being able to embrace this kind of unknown, this thing, that I don’t know what my life’s going to look like in two years- and being okay with that- it was really easy to give in to that.”