With a new school and AmeriCorps service year underway, we want to highlight the importance of service and community. Through a series of three stories, we are recognizing College Possible Minnesota student alumni who have dedicated their time to service, through a variety of forms. Having participated in both College Possible high school and college success programming, these former students are now active participants in their communities.
Pa Kong Lee’s story of service is also one of ripples; how small actions can have big impacts and inspiration takes many forms. By joining the Peace Corps, Pa became an ambassador for America while serving in the Philippines. Her service with the Peace Corps became a time of growth, reflection, and eventual opportunity; Pa Kong credits her Peace Corps service for her current position as a federal employee with U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
My service with the Peace Corps started in high school when my College Possible coach, Erika Huss, brought in Peace Corps bags to an ice breaker activity.
As a refugee girl and the oldest of five siblings, I have always felt like I was never taught to have big dreams and goals in life. I grew up living under the poverty line so my family did not have much. I was often reminded that, after high school, one of my responsibilities was to get a job to help support the family. So that was my plan—work.
It was because of Admission Possible (now College Possible) and the amazing coach I had, that opened my eyes to the endless possibilities. Besides learning about life after high school, I learned about life beyond the United States. My coach, Erika, brought some of her extra Peace Corps bags and gave it to our group. That sparked conversations about her services in the Peace Corps.
Listening to Erika share her stories amazed me. I was amazed that she was a young woman, not married, traveling by herself to another country—a country where there was no family or friends—to work with strangers and to make an impact on their lives. It was then that I knew I could and would do something similar someday.
This was why I decided to join the Peace Corps. I wanted to do something bigger. I wanted to do something different and to challenge myself. More importantly, I wanted to serve and make a difference, on behalf of my country. Lastly, I wanted to prove to myself that even a girl who grew up in poverty can serve, as long as I was given the opportunity.
My service with the Peace Corps began in August 2010 as I traveled with over 170 Americans to the Philippines, the country I called home for 27 months. I served as a Community Family Youth Worker. I worked in a co-ed residential facility that helped provide educational, social and spiritual support to youth who were abandoned, neglected or homeless.
Joining the Peace Corps was one of the most challenging experiences I had ever encountered. The experiences were emotionally and mentally draining, but it challenged me to grow in ways that I never thought I could. I learned how privileged I was as an American, how my 27 months overseas impacted the youth I worked with and really understood what it means to be an ambassador for America.
I am a firm believer that the universe works in ways to guide you to where you need to be. It was my experience in College Possible that connected me to the Peace Corps, which has led me to different opportunities in my life that I feel I would not have had if it were not for my service in the Peace Corps. I was able to meet people and build a network called the Peace Corps family. This has provided me with different resources that has helped me land my current job with the federal government.
Other stories in the College Possible Student Alumni Service series: