HARWICH — Two young women will enter the Peace Corps next month and spend two years far from their homes in Harwich.
Taryn Williams, 28, will travel to the Dominican Republic on March 2 to work as a Spanish literacy promoter while Emma Karlson, 23, will travel to Zambia six days later, to begin training as an agriculture and forestry extension agent. Williams and Karlson do not know one another.
Although Williams has spent much time away from the Cape since she graduated from Dennis-Yarmouth Regional High School in 2010, she said in a recent email interview that she will miss “the peacefulness of the ocean every day” and that she “will always miss the people on the Cape who made it a home for me.”
Traveling abroad is no novelty to Williams. While studying at the University of Pennsylvania, where she graduated with a B.A. in urban studies and later earned an M.S. in elementary education and teaching, Williams participated in study abroad programs. In London she studied British literature and theater and in South Africa she studied the arts. She later did a teaching internship in Ghana.
Before she joined the Peace Corps, Williams taught for four years in various capacities in Philadelphia public schools and for three years in Germany, one year as a Fulbright Scholar. She also worked one season as an outdoor educator in New Hampshire.
So what does a Spanish literacy promoter do? Basically Williams will coach teachers to help them develop innovative teaching methods that will lead to more effective instruction.
“With the Peace Corps I will be working in ‘high-needs’ schools with at-risk students—students for whom a strong education could change everything,” she says. “I will work closely with the schools and teachers to determine what these students need, and then help them implement and monitor various strategies throughout my two-year service.”
Williams believes that one person can make “a remarkable difference in our world.” She says she came to this worldview due to traumatic experiences when she was growing up. She was moved into foster care and shuffled through several houses. At one point she lived in what she describes as “a dehumanizing shelter.” “I was desperately in need of support,” she adds.
And support came in the form of the caring teachers and staff at her school. She recalls an AP history teacher who, on the morning after one of her moves from one home to another, told her not to worry about the assignments due that week and to let him know if he could help. A German teacher arranged a trip abroad during which she flew for the first time and saw the world beyond Cape Cod. A guidance counselor believed in her so much that he wrote a glowing recommendation that led to her matriculation at U-Penn.
“Without people like these in my life, I would have likely ended up with a different fate, as statistically happens for young people who have been in the foster care system,” she says. “This proves the monumental effect that a caring adult can have in a child’s life—and I want to work to ensure that every child has someone like that on their side.”
You might say Williams now wants to “pay it forward.”
During the first three months of her service, Williams will live with a host family to become fully immersed in the country’s language and culture. After acquiring the necessary skills, Williams will be sworn into service and assigned to a specific community.
Emma Karlson will travel to a different part of the world – Zambia – to work in agriculture and forestry for two years.
“I was motivated to join after seeing how closely my interests and the Peace Corps mission were aligned,” Karlson said in a press release. “The fact I get to move to another country and be involved in another community was a huge motivator, too. Making any sort of difference while also expanding my skills and overcoming challenges was what attracted me throughout the application process.”
Karlson is the daughter of Douglas Karlson and Wendy Diehl and stepdaughter of Brian Diehl. She is a graduate of Nauset Regional High School and attended Auburn University in Auburn, Ala., where she earned a B.S. in natural resource management in 2019. Prior to joining the Peace Corps, she earned an Environmental Protection Agency watershed management training certificate and worked as a prescribed burn manager with the Alabama Forestry Commission and as a teacher with Learning Tree.
Karlson will work in cooperation with the local Zambians and partner organizations on sustainable, community-based development projects that improve the lives of people in Zambia.
Karlson and Williams are joining 247 other Massachusetts residents currently serving in the Peace Corps. Since President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps in 1961, more than 240,000 Americans of all ages, including more than 8,781 Massachusetts residents, have served in 142 countries worldwide. A goal of the Peace Corps is for its volunteers to return from service as global citizens positioned for professional opportunities in today’s global job market.