Niki Neumann is pictured with her host mom, Kesi, and host sister, Sofa.

 

Rick Lytle, Online Editor-in-Chief

24 hours and over 18,00 miles later, Niki Neumann and 71 other Peace Corps volunteers’ plane touched down in Indonesia, where they will spend the next 27 months doing volunteer work and integrating with the local culture.

Niki Neumann, who graduated from Prospect in 2015, will be living in Indonesia for the next two years teaching English to local middle school and high school students. Indonesia is ranked 116th in the United Nations Human Development Index and has a GDP per capita that is about 1/15th that of the United States, illustrating the economic challenge the country faces. The country is predominately Muslim (around 87% of the population) and will overall be a cultural shift for Neumann to get used to.

“Everyone has been really nice and welcoming,” Neumann said. “We have language and cultural facilitators that guide us through the next three months of our training, and they welcomed us with a traditional dance, which was neat to see.”

The Peace Corps is a program run by the United States Government that sends Americans to over 60 countries “to promote world peace and friendship.” Neumann first gained an interest in the Peace Corps in high school when her cousin served in Azerbaijan. Since then, she has always considered the Peace Corps as an option after college. As a result, during her senior year at Elmhurst College, she applied to the Peace Corps. 

After a lengthy application process including an online Q and A, legal and medical clearances, and an interview, she was officially accepted. Her major at Elmhurst College of Early Childhood Education will help her transition to her position as an English teacher for the Peace Corps in Indonesia. Additionally, her service experience will allow her to complete the Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certificate. 

This will only add to her impressive resume, which she hopes will help her get a job as either an early elementary teacher or as an English as a Second Language resource teacher when she returns to the United States. 

“Pursuing education has been something I’ve wanted to do my whole life,” Neumann said.  “My mom is a teacher, and she is just my biggest hero; it sounds cheesy, but it’s true.” 

Her mom, Amy Neumann, is one of a number of people she will miss while overseas. Her two sisters, Kendall and Lucy, along with her dad, Kevin, and brother, Wes, are part of her “invisible army of support,” as she calls it. 

“I’m sad about my family; I’m missing them already. They’re a huge part of my life,” Neumann said.

Currently, Neumann is with a host family in the city of Kediri, where she and other volunteers get acclimated to Indonesian culture and take classes specific to their stay in Indonesia. They spend five to six hours per day learning Bahasa Indonesia, the local language.

“That’s really exciting, and that’s part of the reason I came here: to learn a new language and to experience new culture,” Neumann said.

In addition to the language classes, the volunteers also go through rigorous safety, medical and culture classes. Neumann notes the bond that she and the other volunteers have formed.

“We all are in new places, and we want to be able to share our experiences with each other because we can relate to each other,” Neumann said. 

For the moment, the Peace Corps members are all together, but once their training ends, they will be spread out across the country. The volunteers will continue to stay in touch over the course of the 27 months, sharing lesson plans and being a support system for each other once the volunteers are each in their individual villages. 

Nicole Stoltz, Neumann’s Yearbook Advisor at Prospect, is not surprised with the path Neumann is pursuing. 

“Niki [Neumann] was the most genuine, kind-hearted and bubbly student we had on staff,” Stoltz said. “Niki never had a bad day, she always had a smile on her face and she was always willing to help others.”