Happy International Volunteer Day!

Michael with other volunteersI logged onto Facebook this morning to discover, thanks to the Peace Corps group,  that TODAY is International Volunteer Day!  They asked for anyone to share a story about their favorite volunteer.

Well.  That’s easy for me!

My favorite International Volunteer is my son, Michael Patterson. He is in his second year with the Peace Corps, serving in a very remote area of Nicaragua.  He helps with the English language programs in the high schools there. He assists the teachers so they can better instruct the students.  He has set up “charlas,” which are little workshops for the kids, camps for children to come, stay and improve their English as well asPC Cover bringing his favorite sport, Judo,  to them.  He writes for Va Pue, the Peace Corps magazine that comes out for Nicaraguan volunteers.  He shot the picture for the cover, on the right. This year, he’ll be working in more of an editor role. And he shares a little about what’s happening with him there in his own blog, In the Nica Time.

I could go on and on about him, but I’ll limit it to his volunteer efforts, and how I think he ended up where he is. It’s ironic, really, that he’s teaching English teachers and students, considering he never set foot in a high school here in the USA. Michael was unschooled through all of his high school years, and middle school… everything but Kindergarten and 1st grade.  For those who don’t know, unschooling differs from what the majority of the world considers homeschooling in that the children/teens learn in a more natural way. No predetermined curriculum or tests. But before you worry that they aren’t learning, let me assure you they are! When a child’s ideas and explorations are supported and encouraged, they can’t help but flourish. Children love learning in an environment like that.  Michael ended up taking community college courses in his teen years, transferred to a state university, and graduated Magna Cum Laude in Journalism with a minor in Anthropology.

Michael was  encouraged to pursue his interests, wherever they took him. At 12, we hosted an exchange student from Japan: Tomohiro Tani. He spent about three months with us, and before long, all Michael would talk about is travel.  At 16, he saved up enough money to participate in a foreign exchange program  and he went TO JAPAN for three months. The first month was in Tokyo, where he took The Bullet Train daily to study in an intensive language program. The next two months were in Nagano, a more rural setting of Japan. He went to classes with the host family’s son, and absolutely loved diving into their culture.

Peace-Corps-cropped-FNLMichael decided after that experience, that he wanted to join the Peace Corps. He discovered that you have to get a degree first, in order to participate. So that’s what he did.   I think he’d rather have had his degree in Anthropology instead, but I got nervous about “how would he get a job with that?”  Through Journalism, his goal was to someday work for something wonderful like National Geographic or become a travel journalist.  But his real love is learning about other cultures. And helping them wherever they think they have a need.

As a teenager, Michael set up a monthly community service club through 4H. Each month, they participated in a different community project – Habitat for Humanity, the Linus Project, handing out toys for the Salvation Army, serving in soup kitchens, etc.  During college, he took a semester in Belize and worked on an archaelogical dig.  He got his SCUBA license and started cleaning up the river bottom near his campus. He participated with a group that helped international students acclimate to a new environment.

Michael & Kathya

Often, you hear mothers say that they learn from their children. That is certainly the case with me. Not only did I learn along the way, as he was growing up, but I’m CONTINUING to learn. You see, tomorrow, I board my first international flight to visit Michael in Nicaragua!  He is so excited to show me around Nicaragua. Last year, we spent Christmas with him via Skype. This year, thanks to a very generous grandmother, I will get to go see him there – and he will come back to spend Christmas here. He’ll be bringing his girlfriend, Kathya, who has never left Nicaragua.

I’m so very proud of my favorite International Volunteer – Michael Patterson! And I can’t wait to see him tomorrow!

5 thoughts on “Happy International Volunteer Day!

  1. Willow says:

    Hi Sue. We’d like to put a version of this article in The Homeschooler (formerly known as HSC’s California magazine, but now national in scope). Please email me back so we can talk more about it. We’d love to have this in the next week or so.

Let me know what you think, ok? Please comment.

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