MSC Southeast student now a volunteer in Peru with the Peace Corps
With a name like Rivers, it must be natural for Brian Rivers to work with water systems. The 2011 graduate from Cotter High School in Winona earned a degree in civil engineering from UW-Platteville in December 2016.
After college, Brian returned to Winona and applied to serve in the Peace Corps. He was assigned to work in Peru. Knowing he was headed for South America, he thought he should brush up on his high school Spanish.
He began with a free online class but didn't find it very helpful. "I thought, I'll try Minnesota State College Southeast -- maybe they'll have something, and they really came through!"
He emailed instructor Lynne Rabuse to determine whether he should start with Spanish I or II. That's when he discovered that she had been a Peace Corps volunteer too. It was exciting that both student and teacher had that experience in common.
Most language courses are all about memorization, but Brian says Lynne's course was much more active. "From the beginning, she's getting you to listen, and repeat, and speak. She spoke to us in Spanish from the get go. You get used to hearing the sounds and carrying on a conversation. You get over the hump of being afraid to speak the language."
Being close to home and affordable were factors, too. "I live about a mile from here. I was super impressed that I could ride my bike down the road to Southeast, take a very progressive, effective Spanish course, and learn so much so fast. And of course, it was relatively inexpensive compared to other colleges."
"It was great having someone in class with a specific goal," said Lynne. "Brian knew he would be applying his new skills in a real world environment, which can be very motivating when one is tackling the challenge of mastering a new language."
Partway through his second semester, it was time for Brian to leave for his Peace Corps assignment. "Even though I didn't finish the class, it was still worth it!"
When Brian was home for a visit over the holidays, he spoke to a large group at MSC Southeast and shared some of his Peace Corps experiences. Now living in a small, remote mountain town, Brian's work is helping people obtain clean water and promoting sanitation and hygiene.
"Basic things like washing your hands are not as intuitive there. They have access to water, but it's not continuous, and not always clean," he said.
He explained that the Peace Corps doesn't do construction projects. "You don't need bulldozers or shovels to change behaviors. You need time to build relationships, and that's how we bring about change. We are working with communities to take care of the water themselves."
As Brian returns to Peru this week, we wish him all the best!
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