Women’s History Month Interview Two: Kyria Charles, Peace Corps Cameroon 2017-2019

Women’s History Month Interview Two: Kyria Charles, Peace Corps Cameroon 2017-2019

Hello friends! Thanks for joining me!

Here is my second interview in honor of Women’s History Month! Kyria Louis – Charles is a returned Cameroon Peace Corps volunteer from Florida. One interesting fact about Kyria is that she is from the country of Haiti. Her family moved from Haiti to Miami Florida, which is how the U.S. became her home.

Q: Can you tell me a bit about yourself?

A: I’ve always had three major passions in life: traveling, learning and experiencing different cultures, and aiding
people through utilization of the skills and knowledge I gained from the health field. As a young child, I knew that a career in the health field was destined for me but landing on the path that took me to the Peace Corps was one I could have never imagined.

Q: Can you tell me about your time working with Peace Corps in Cameroon?

A: I started my Peace Corps service in September 2017.

From 2017 to 2019, I called a small, conservative Muslim village in Cameroon, Africa home as I served as a Health
Extension volunteer. As a volunteer in my region, my main area of focus was Maternal & Child Health and doing
activities related to malaria, malnutrition, HIV/AIDS, youth development and water sanitation and hygiene.

The two years that I spent in Cameroon were challenging, inspiring, and difficult, but also life – changing. It was my first time not only immersing myself in a culture and lifestyle that greatly differed from my own, but I also lived there and found friends who became family. I lived in a community that truly embodied the saying that “it takes a village” because everyone’s life was intertwined with everyone else’s – the community was one big family.

Though I was placed in my village to teach my community health interventions that would help them increase their
quality of life, I learned so much more from them. I learned what it truly meant to work with someone who differs
from you and to fully accept them for who they are. My Peace Corps service taught me humility, GREAT patience,
and what true community looks like but also how health is wealth.

I learned how to speak the local dialect and was impacted so intensely and intimately by my village that the lessons I learned there are lessons I believe will stay with me for the rest of my life. Though I could have never imagined that my path in life would lead me to where I currently am, despite all the challenges and trials, I am beyond thankful because it led to me finding what I am passionate about and driven to do for the rest of my life.

Q: How has travel impacted your life and how has it changed you?

Travel has made the world feel smaller – but in a good way. I’ve been blessed to call many places aside from my hometown “home” and to me, that signifies how despite being
in a place that I’m not familiar or accustomed to, I’ve been able to find comfort, security, love, and a place where I
can bloom – the typical components of a home.

Traveling has softened my heart to learning about different cultures, values and beliefs and about how to be more
accepting of people. I find that I’m more accommodating, inclusive and open – minded than I was before traveling.
It’s also significantly changed my life.

Had it not been for traveling, I would have never decided to go into the Peace Corps, applied for graduate school or
be on the path that I am on now. It has impacted how I not only view and connect with myself but also how I
interact with others around me. It has made me more self – assured, more “woke”, more loving and more passionate
about human rights and health equity. Traveling has fundamentally changed for the better who I am as a person and
who I want to be in the future.

Q: Where was your most recent travel experience and what did it teach you?

A: In August 2019, I got the chance to go to Sweden with one of my friends to take the GRE.

After living in an African country for the past two years, my trip to Sweden was the first time I visited another country (aside from going back home in the U.S. during the holidays) since I started my Peace Corps service in Cameroon in September 2017.

After living in a place where people with my skin tone were the majority, I honestly experienced some cultural
shock being in Sweden. Growing up and having gone to a PWI (publicly white institution) for university, I was used to being the minority but living in Cameroon was my first time living in a place where I was the majority and that had not only become my normal, but also provided me with a sense of comfort.

I absolutely loved my time in Sweden. It was refreshing to experience a new place and do like the locals do ( I
went with my Peace Corps friend who is Swedish) which has always been a goal of mine for every new place I
travel to. It was also a welcoming reminder of how where you live and the lifestyle, values and beliefs that are
represented in a certain place does impact you.

In my village in Cameroon, I had to dress conservatively so I would never wear clothes that were too tight or
revealing and you would never find me wearing shorts. But when I was Sweden, I was able to wear whatever I
wanted and could do so without worry about being judged.

However, when I would wear shorts or crop tops I would feel self-conscious about it because my new normal was to not wear things like that because of the values that I adopted in my village. Even though I quickly readjusted to being able to wear less conservative clothing in Sweden, it definitely took some time, haha.

Q: What has been your most favorite travel experience and why?

A: Aside from the two years I spent in Cameroon serving as a Peace Corps Health Volunteer, my study abroad trip to Northern Ireland has been my favorite travel experience thus far.

In the summer of 2016, I participated in a 6-week study abroad trip with the Arts in Medicine program at my
university. Reflecting back on it now, in many ways, this trip catalyzed my passion to seek out opportunities where I
could do the two things I love the most – traveling to learn about the world around me and providing aid to others.

During my time in Northern Ireland, I got the chance to see how a country’s war history impacted their current
societal outcomes and it showed me the many thick layers that must be peeled away to heal from past trauma and

This trip challenged me to think outside of myself and to change the lenses in which I was viewing Northern
Ireland in. By learning about the social and cultural implications of the war, I was better able to immerse myself in
their culture and understand their journey to well – being and healing.

This trip was the first time I was able to let myself just get lost in wandering around where I was but also step out of
my comfort zone, beliefs and values, and truly and open – heartedly experience a different culture and lifestyle. The
lessons and experiences I had while in Northern Ireland are some that I still reflect upon today and my time there is
one I will not soon forget.

Q: Do you have any tips or advice for people who want to travel more?

A: I am more of a planner and organizer than I am spontaneous with my decisions, so I found taking time to learn a bit about my destination really helpful and beneficial.

Even if it’s somewhere that is highly advertised, take the time to research cultural norms, events, venues and other
things that can be found or done there. I personally feel that doing this beforehand will not only help give you ideas
of things to look forward to on your trip, but it’ll also give you a chance to learn about the culture and lifestyle there
a bit which will allow you to better be able to respect it.

I think that sometimes when tourists visit a place, they are sometimes appalled or vocal a lot on their opinion of how they think something should be or are shocked that it isn’t exactly what they expected. However, they neglect to realize that they are stepping into someone else’s space. So, don’t forget that you are a guest in the place that has opened its arms to you. Act accordingly.

My last piece of advice is to take opportunities that will allow you to immerse yourself in the culture. It’s a beautiful
thing to travel and see new places but there is just something so indescribably beautiful in immersing yourself in
another culture.

Along with eating the wonderful food or going to all the beautiful touristy sites, if you’re able to, have a deep conversation with a local to learn about their upbringing, spend a day with a host family, visit other
parts of your destination that aren’t so touristy and mostly importantly, put the phone away from time to time.
Pictures will capture beautiful significant moments, but you’ll be able to capture a lot more meaningful moments
away from the screen.

Q: What are the must have items in your packing list?

A: For me it’s these things in this specific order:
Earphones. Hand sanitizer. Lip balm.

Music not only makes me happy, but it helps me experience the world around me. Having a pair of earphones during
travels make long drives, waiting times, or chilling in my room at the end of the day help me feel grounded.

Hand sanitizer is an item I try to make sure I always have while traveling. Your chances of getting sick increases
when traveling and you come into contact with so many more germs than you would in your normal life.

Lastly, being on the move and not drinking as much water as I’d like while traveling makes lip balm a staple in my
packing list.

Q: Where can people follow your travel journeys?

A: I post most of my travels on Instagram at kyriarose_. While I was in Peace Corps, I posted blogs (very infrequently,
haha) on my website at: louischarleskyria.wixsite.com/kyriaandthepcjourney.

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