After living for fourteen months in a hut three meters in diameter with no electricity or running water, Kaylee Gund (Biochemistry ’13) realized she could handle just about anything. A volunteer for the Peace Corps in Guinea, Gund taught middle and high school students in a rural village until she was evacuated as a result of the West-African country’s Ebola outbreak. I spoke with her in October 2014 about her experience there.
Before beginning the Peace Corps application process her senior year, Gund considered several graduate schools but none seemed a good fit. “The ideas of service, travel and cultural exchange that are part of the Peace Corps experience really appealed to me,” she said. “And I felt I had been given so much that I wanted to give back where it was most needed.”
Her major in Biochemistry and concentration in French made Gund an ideal candidate for her post as a chemistry teacher in French-speaking Guinea. She lived with a host family during her three-month training but had her own hut among a circle of others within the village during her teaching assignment. Gund said she “adopted” a family living within the circle, sharing meals with them and going to them for advice. “Some aid organizations come in and out of the country without making a connection,” Gund said, “but the Peace Corps is different. By having an extended stay, I became part of the community. They were very generous and happy I was there.” A poignant story on Gund’s blog illustrates her point. Seeing her grief over the death of her great-uncle, the local villagers presented her with a small sum of money, a Guinean tradition for the family of the deceased. She writes: “The sum would have been nothing in US dollars, but it was more than money–it was a gift of tradition, a gift of their love and appreciation of me.”
Gund is quick to point out that the experience was hard, and that it was a culture shock. But she credits her Rome semester as helping to prepare her for this international experience. “Rome can help you adjust to life in another country if you can take the time to explore,” she said. She also turned to her faith to help her through difficult times. “Guinea is primarily a Muslim country. There was no Church in my village so I had to take a bush taxi to the city to attend mass. My faith gave me something to hold on to in the midst of everything new and strange and different,” she said.
Gund’s time in Guinea was cut short because of the much-publicized Ebola outbreak affecting the country. Although no cases were reported in her village, the Peace Corps determined that the Guinean health infrastructure was too hard-pressed to provide adequate support for volunteers in case of any other type of medical emergency. Hoping to continue her international travels, Gund now plans to attend graduate school in Europe. After her Peace Corps experience, she should have no problem handling that. “I’m more flexible now,” she said. “I can adjust to any environment.”
Kaylee Gund graduated from the University of Dallas in 2013 with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Biohemistry and a concentration in French.