This was one of the hardest interviews I’ve done so far… and not because the interviewee isn’t interesting. It was actually the exact opposite. He is so interesting and complex that I felt I was doing him 0 justice every time I looked at my notes. I tried and tried to ask different questions so you, the reader, could get a glimpse at the true gem that is this PCV… I tried my best but this interview is only about 10% of the genuine intelligence that is Smiley… Ladies and Gents, I hope you’re sitting down.
Name: Smiley Rojas-Nuñez
Studied Accounting, at Albany SUNY (Albany, NY), with a minor in Latin American/Caribbean History
PC: Business Sector
Fun Fact: A fun fact um… I’ve been hit by a car before in a hit and run accident.
[Me: O_O Smiley that’s a terrible fun fact! Smiley: how? I lived!]
Why did you join PC?
To perfect my Spanish and hopefully get closer to understanding the kind of career I want to have moving forward.
What’s your greatest accomplishment in life so far?
Being able to acquire numerous scholarships during college helping me to travel the world while receiving a quality education.
What’s your dream job?
I want to help write trade laws between countries. The way they are currently written, someone always loses. There’s a tax but no true equilibrium in trade. I want there to be a better balance in global trade, where you give the things you have excessive of and actually get what you need.
How many countries have you been to?
8 (China, Chile, Costa Rica, Cuba, Brazil, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Nicaragua)
What’s the most beautiful place you’ve been to?
The most beautiful place I’ve been to is Rio de Janeiro Brazil.
What’s a place you want to see?
I want to go see the Aurora lights.
What’s your life advice to the world?
Get up and reach out at every opportunity made available to you You don’t know what you’re missing out on whether it’s an opportunity, advice or a chance to change your mindset about something if you only ever stay within your comfort zone. Try new things whenever you can.
What’s the most interesting thing you packed to come to Nicaragua?
I packed dance slippers, made for hardwood floors. I love dancing.
What did traveling give you?
It opened my mind to realize the world is bigger than I could imagine.
Who has made the biggest impact on your life? Why?
My mother has made the biggest impact on my life because her immigration story made me realize that I can’t really complain about any of the first world problems I might have to deal with in my day to day life.
Who’s your favorite superhero and why?
Wolverine. I like Wolverine because although physically he is immortal, the way issues affect him emotionally makes him feel human.
What is your biggest fear?That I was ever perceived as inauthentic.
You can follow Smiley and his journey on his blog here
I remember the exact moment I met Polly. It was through a dark haze of interrupted sleep because I had dead bolted the hotel door and she was trying to come in at one in the morning. My first words to her (indirectly were), “Lordy,. I’m coming. Heavens, what time is it? Lord Jesus, come in.” Then I climbed right back under the covers and went back to sleep. I know this to be true because she reiterated it to me the next morning. I truly am a southern belle at heart. Through our several conversations, in Miami and In Nicaragua (she was my roommate twice in a row! #luckyme) I learned she truly loves chemistry. Listening to her talk about what change she is actually implementing in the health industry right now, was astounding and inspiring! Words can’t even do her true justice.. she’s not at all what she seems. I like to think of her like the sun… a lot of people see her but no one truly knows her strength, purpose or power on this planet. Ladies and Gentleman.. Polly.
Name: Polly Wiltz
Earned a BS in Biochemistry and a BA in Spanish from Western Washington University in Bellingham, WA
PC: Health Sector
Fun fact: I can impersonate any accent. I’ve been asked repeatedly why I don’t work for the CIA
Why did you join the peace corps?I joined the peace corps to get more involved with global health, to see how life is in a developing country, to improve my Spanish and to gain more life experience
What’s your passion? How long have you been into it? What sparked your interest in that?My passion is healthcare. I’ve been driven towards medical school since my senior year of high school. My cousin lost a 5 year battle to cancer the month before I was supposed to graduate. That has been my reason for pursuing medicine and I hope to work as a pediatric oncologist after my completion with the peace corps.
How does that tie into PC?
The peace corps is allowing me to be involved with healthcare and giving me opportunists to implement my own ideas into health education.
What was your parents reaction when you told them you wanted to join PC?
My parents were very hesitant at first when I told them I was going to apply. I am the first to serve with the PC in my family and the first to speak Spanish fluently. I’m a fish out of water lol
Do you like your host family? What have you learned by living with them?
My host family is great. Mama Luby is so generous for someone that has so little to give. I’ve learned to be humble. I’ve also learned to grateful for a bed to sleep in. I had no idea how much that meant to me until I got here.
What’s one thing that surprised you about life in Nicaragua?
I think the biggest thing that surprised me in Nicaragua is how large a contrast there is between the wealthy and the poor here. There really isn’t a middle class.
What do you expect to get out of your PC service?
I expect to learn. To learn language, culture, social cues, travel, how to be in charge and lead a community, and gain a little life experience along the way. Also, how to effectively eradicate bugs from the premises. That includes within 50 meters of my room
How many languages do you speak?
I speak 4 languages.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
In five years, medical school. At least as of right now. Who knows what will happen even in the next 2 years while I’m here
Favorite quote: “obstacles are what you see when you take your eyes off the goal”
As I said before, you just never know the type of people you’ll meet. In talking to all my fellow volunteers, I have heard interesting stories. Some things are completely unbelievable. Sometimes, people are just not at all what they seem. Such is the case for Jay Armenta. He is incredibly sweet, funny and protective of his friends. I feel lucky to have such a title. Get into it peeps…
Whittier College (Southern California) BS Kinesiology
University of Hawaii, Masters in Public Health
PC: Health Sector
Fun fact: There are three generations living in my house back home. I love my family.
What made you join the Peace Corps?
I once heard this quote, it goes something like this “The only life worth living is that which is lived in service to others” and I wanted to live. That’s why I joined.
What do you hope to get out of this service?
A new home and I want to be able to rap in Spanish
How long have you been rapping?
Since 2007, I go by the name Rayne Rose
What do your parents think about it?
They are really supportive.
How did you get into it?
I got into rap through poetry. I was inspired by this group called Climbing Poetry.
What do you hope comes from it?
I want to be a Performance Activist and spread my message through music. I have a message of serving others and being kind.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
On a stage, performing for people who care.
What’s something you’re stereotyped for that you think isn’t true?
For some reason, people think I’m not smart, but I am very intelligent.
Would you recommend Peace Corps for others?
Most definitely. I want others to live.
What does the world need more of and why?
The world needs more love and light because that is the fuel for the souls of the universe. I am here to illuminate the darkness.
You can find Jay’s music here and here. Check it out and tell him what you think. It has been a pleasure to get to know him and live (serve) beside him. Who knows what else I will learn about him in two years.
I was shocked when I saw these two in our volunteer group and from day one they stood out as hilarious and intelligent. John had a quiet but quirky side that I am so glad I got to meet! We nicknamed Debby #DeliquentDebby and #ThatsnotsafeDebby from our staging scenarios where she did a great job acting out what we’re not supposed to do. Over the few days we had together, I listened in to them tell several stories that were simply amazing so it is very appropriate they be my first volunteers to highlight. Ladies and gentlemen, Debby and John
Fun fact: Had career as a midwife and nurse, where she helped 2,000 moms birth children.
Fun fact: helped raise 7 children, has 12 grandchildren
Shared fun fact: they both turned 60 in Honduras, turning 70 in Nicaragua and are excited to see what the next decade brings.
How did you meet?
(John) we were introduced by mutual friends at a birthday party. “I knew they were trying to fix me up with her.” (Debby) “well I didn’t know.” (John) Took awhile for there to be chemistry, about a few months but then when it did it, we got close very fast. We met in 1990.
How long have you been married?
Since April 1993
When did you first join peace corps?
We served in 2005-2007 in Honduras.
(John) Well before we met, we both considered it right out of college but life took us on other paths. We got together, raised kids after the kids went to college Deb suggested it. (Deb) John had reservations but we decided to go. We were inspired by a mutual friend’s mother who did it at 60!
What was it like in Honduras?
(John) I felt like everyday I was seeing something I had never seen before. It was foreign, intriguing, and inspirational. I have never lived in a place where animals just ran the streets. We made a list of how Honduras was like the States and it was a lot like being in a time warp. Everything was behind the times.
(Deb) I was looking forward to that but I was most looking forward to knowing the people I saw in photographs of Honduras are real life and actually being apart of that. Just really cool and who would have thought this would be my life. One time a boy broke his arm. There, when a child is in the hospital, the mother stays with him there. But this mother had a newborn so I alternated between his sisters sleeping under his bed in the hospital for about a week. It was just a dream that that was my life for a time.
What made you decide to join again?
(Debby) Honduras was such a positive experience. We came home, because we wanted to be home awhile. I took a job and said I’d give it five years and after four years I decided it was time to go again. (John) Just being a member of our community and the people. We made great friends among volunteers too. A year and a half ago, we went to a wedding for one of the volunteers from Honduras. We met a lot of our old friends. It was great.
Why did you decide on Nicaragua?
We had about 4 options but some we deduced against because it was simply too far away. We have families in the States and we wanted them to be able to visit. Central America was more manageable. We both wanted to improve our Spanish. We had Central American experience and was excited to be seeing it again in another country to compare it to Honduras.