Callie Sorensen could be the poster child for global education. Her passion for learning about other cultures has taken the 2002 RIT graduate (new media design and imaging) to every continent except Antarctica.
During her years at RIT, the Chicago native participated in a study-abroad program at the University of Melbourne, Australia.
After graduating, she moved to London and worked as a graphic/web designer for the U.K.-U.S. Fulbright Commission. But eventually, she realized that sitting at a computer in an office wasn’t right for her. “I’m much more of a people person.”
She saved up and went backpacking around Europe, ultimately arriving in Turkey. The poverty she witnessed in a less-developed part of the world evoked a desire to help.
Sorensen applied to the Peace Corps, requesting an assignment in a Spanish-speaking nation. Because she was not fluent in that language, she was turned down.
That did not stop her. “I bought a one-way ticket to Central America. I did a little research, but really, I just went on my own. I met people, found opportunities to work for food and board.”
In Guatemala, Sorensen volunteered with a bookmobile serving rural schools. Then she stumbled upon a turtle sanctuary and joined the conservation and educational effort.
After six months in Central America, she moved to Ecuador, where she volunteered in a small mountain village teaching 50 students in a one-room schoolhouse. Next, she worked in a senior home in Cuenca, Ecuador.
Then the Peace Corps contacted her with an opportunity related to her college experience. At RIT, Sorensen had become involved in the deaf/hard-of-hearing community. She learned American Sign Language, worked as a notetaker, made many friends. “I love the deaf culture,” she says.
In 2005, she accepted a Peace Corps assignment at the Rev. Muhoro Secondary School for the Deaf. First came three months of training where Sorensen learned Swahili and Kenya Sign Language and also about the culture and how to live without electricity, running water—how to live as the natives do. Then she settled into a small village in the foothills of Mt. Kenya, where she lived in the boarding school for deaf high school students.
“I was the first Peace Corps volunteer in my village and the first white person many had ever seen,” she says. “They have next to nothing, but they were so warm and welcoming.” The people of the village adopted Sorensen, looking out for her and giving her a Kenyan name, Wambui.
“My main job was teaching about HIV/AIDS and life skills,” she says. Many of the students were older than traditional high school age, with some in their 20s to as old as 40. “In Kenya, there’s a high stigma attached to being deaf. Some of the students had really struggled in their lives.”
Sorensen also worked with an HIV testing center located in Nairobi, using her graphic design skills to help improve the educational materials used during visits to deaf schools and groups around the country.
Before her assignment ended in December 2007, Sorensen’s parents, Mindy and Jim Sorensen, visited. Both are teachers, and her father participated in Worldwide Schools program, which connects schools in the U.S. with Peace Corps volunteers. They, along with many other friends from home, have become sponsors for some of her Kenyan students.
Her international experiences didn’t end with the Peace Corps. Sorensen spent two years teaching English in Japan under the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program (JET). Because of her close ties to that nation, she was shocked to learn the news of the recent tragic earthquake and aftermath.
“The news was absolutely devastating. Luckily my boyfriend, his family, and everyone in my community are OK,” she reports.
“One thing I've learned from living there is that Japanese people have a strong sense of community, so I have no doubt they will unify and overcome this tragedy. It’s amazing to see how the world is also coming together to show support and love for Japan and its people.”
In December 2010, Sorensen began a six-month stay in India, where she recently completed training to become a yoga teacher. She hopes to teach English and yoga in South Korea with her boyfriend.
For the foreseeable future, her plans are “definitely international.”
Putting what she’s learned together—ASL, other languages, design and computer skills— has led Sorensen on an amazing journey.
“One of the mottoes I have picked up from my yoga classes is: ‘Never give up and always let go.’ I have been applying that to my everyday life.”
To read about other graduates in the Peace Corps, go to www.rit.edu/news/magazine_story.php?id=48228.