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Peace Corps Voices: Danielle Ellingston '97, Lessons from Ghana

Danielle Ellingston '97 in a village in Ghana

Partnership for the goal sustainable cities and communities Reduced inequalities

SUNY Geneseo is proud that we number 14 nationwide for active Peace Corps volunteers among medium-sized schools. There are 18 active volunteers in 16 countries, helping to train men and women in healthcare, education, entrepreneurship and other fields, and addressing sustainable development goals to reduce inequality.  In recognition, we are creating a digital scrapbook of stories and photos from active and past volunteers from our Geneseo family.

Danielle Ellingston ’97

Major: Economics

Peace Corps volunteer: 1997 to 1999

Location: Ghana

Expertise: Small enterprise development, non-traditional exports (pineapples)

The most valuable lesson or perspective I learned during my Peace Corps service:

I learned so much that it's hard to say what the one most valuable lesson was. First, Americans are resistant to the idea of there being a distinct American culture because we consider our country to be so diverse. However, when you spend time in a different culture you learn at least as much about your own culture as you do of the host country's culture, and it becomes pretty clear that there is a distinct American culture.

Second, despite vast cultural differences and economic circumstances, people have striking similarities. I learned about what sets us apart and what brings us together, as humans.

Finally, I learned that as long as basic needs are met, material possessions are not all that important. Human connections are more important to meaningful and happy lives.

I would like to share a memory that stays with me:

I had difficulty adjusting to the food in Ghana. It turns out that I'm more of a picky eater than I had realized. I always felt bad about that, because I knew that sharing meals was so important to connecting with people and it was generally not a pleasant experience for me.

I did get a little perspective on that though, when a friend from my village traveled with me to a friend's house in another community in a different area. We were given some food while we were there, and my Ghanaian friend did not like the local food in this other community, because it was different from what she was used to.

We were only about 50 miles away from her home, but the food was different enough that she couldn't eat it. It made me feel better about the difficulty I had adjusting.

Danielle Ellingston now with her two kids by a lakeMy Geneseo experience inspired me to join the Peace Corps. Here’s why:

I would be remiss if I did not name my dear friend and sophomore year roommate, Bronwyn Irwin. I had heard about the Peace Corps before meeting her and thought it might be something I would like to do, but her passion for exploring and engaging in the world and her own aspiration to travel made it seem feasible in a way it hadn't before.

She initially thought she would join the Peace Corps too, but she decided to embark on an independent trip around the world for two years instead. I met up with her in South Africa for Christmas and New Years, and we stayed with some of her family members. It was a memorable holiday, and interesting to experience the difference between South Africa and Ghana.

— The photos are of me in Ghana during my service and also present day.

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