While most of the University of Oregon’s class of 2015 will move to new cities, land jobs in their chosen fields or return to their hometowns, family and human services major Sarah Oller — a native of Bend — will be starting a new life on a new continent.
This summer, she’ll be traveling to Botswana, a small country in southern Africa, to start a 27-month commitment as a Peace Corps volunteer.
“I wanted to do more than just travel; I wanted to work and explore and learn about cultures on a genuine level,” Oller said. “I can't imagine not pursuing this. I'm so thankful and blessed to have the life that I do and support from my loved ones.”
Oller will be working as a life skills volunteer, with the goal of increasing awareness and prevention of HIV/AIDS — an epidemic that has affected about a quarter of the nation’s adult population. She’ll be working with guidance counselors in primary and secondary schools, putting on events, teaching classes and providing support to community members.
“I think that serving, in any sort of capacity, should be done by more people,” she said. “I think it's important for me to do my part in the world.”
Oller said she isn’t expecting her trip to be all rainbows and butterflies, however. The possibility of physical illness is very real; as part of her application process, she underwent “too many shots to count,” she said, along with eye, ear and dental exams. On top of that, she knows that homesickness will likely sink in once the excitement of immersing herself in the new, foreign community ebbs away.
Despite these challenges, she was never deterred — only motivated.
“It's going to be hard to leave everyone for two years, but it's something I feel like I'm meant to do,” she said. “It's been an incredible four years here (at the UO) and it's bittersweet knowing that I won't be attending classes in the fall with everyone else.”
Oller’s time at the university was instrumental in her decision to join the Peace Corps. The UO has consistently landed on the Peace Corps’ Top Colleges rankings, reflecting the university’s commitment to international service and engagement.
One of Oller’s largest influences while she attended school in Eugene was her favorite professor, Surendra Subramani, a senior instructor in the Department of Family and Human Services. He guided Oller throughout her academic life at the university and wrote her a letter of recommendation when she applied to be a Peace Corps volunteer — which, to Oller, was extremely validating.
“He's been a rock for me and has supported me throughout my journey,” she said of Subramani. “I’m so lucky to call him my friend and mentor; he’s a brilliant man.”
While Oller doesn’t quite yet know what she’ll do upon her return from Africa — which is, after all, over two years down the road — she knows she’ll be coming home with a vast collection of real-world experiences that she can apply to all areas of her life.
“The University of Oregon’s hallmark is producing globally-minded leaders who turn idealism into action as Peace Corps volunteers,” said Erin Carlson, regional manager of Peace Corps West Coast. “Our volunteers become leaders in their host communities and they carry that spirit of service with them when they return home.”
— Nathaniel Brown, Public Affairs Communications intern