CHINA GROVE — Hannah Fisher has dreamed of joining the Peace Corps since she learned about it in the eighth grade.
“I always knew I wanted to teach, and I love to travel,” Hannah said. “I decided, 'Why don't I teach people who need help and don't have access to what we do here in America?'”
Nearly 10 years later, the 22-year-old from China Grove will be leaving for Colombia on Tuesday to begin training as a volunteer for the Peace Corps.
Hannah will teach youth and community members English, as well as help improve English teaching techniques by co-planning and co-teaching with local teachers.
During the first three months of her 27-month service, Hannah will live with a host family in Colombia and become fully immersed in the country's language and culture. She will then be sworn into service and be assigned to a community, where she will live and work for two years with the local people.
She said the goal is not only to help the teachers and students there, but also to learn from them and share what she learns with others back home.
“I think this experience will help me become a better teacher when I come back, because I can bring those experiences to my kids here,” Hannah said. “When I talk about other places, I can say I've been there and give them a real world example of things.”
According to a Peace Corps press release, Hannah Fisher joins the 204 North Carolina residents currently serving with the agency and nearly 4,000 residents who have served in the Peace Corps since 1961.
She is the daughter of Mike Fisher and Crystal Sifford and the sister of Kolby Fisher and Sawyer Sifford of China Grove.
Hannah graduated from South Rowan High School, where she was a volunteer with the South Rowan American Legion and Volunteer Catawba. She also was a cheerleader and in student government, among other clubs.
She then attended Catawba College in Salisbury, where she took four years of Spanish and graduated with honors in elementary education. She was a Junior Marshal and a member of the Alpha Chi honor society.
Hannah said she loved getting the chance to student teach last fall in the third grade at Millbridge Elementary.
“I definitely want to teach,” she said. “I hope I can give all my students that drive to always want to continue to learn.”
Tradition of service
Hannah's father said she may have gotten her thirst for serving abroad from him.
Mike Fisher joined the U.S. Navy when he was a little younger than his daughter is now. He was serving in Desert Storm on a minesweeper when she was born.
As Hannah pursues her dream, Mike said he has encouraged her every step of the way.
“It's hard as a dad to let her do something like that, but it's what she really wanted to do,” he said. “She says that's her calling. I wish I had one. If you have a calling, I believe you should go for it — you really should.”
Hannah has always wanted to help people, Mike said. She has volunteered at Main Street Mission, Rowan Helping Ministries, Nazareth Children's Home and at her church.
Her father said he knew since she was a young girl that Hannah would one day become a teacher.
“I couldn't be more proud of her,” Mike said, smiling as he looked at his grown daughter. “I'm scared and nervous as a dad, but she's really doing what she's always wanted to do.”
To get a sense of what's going on in Colombia, Mike reads blogs written by people who are currently serving there. He said he's glad there are more ways to keep in touch now than when he joined the Navy.
Hannah said she's a little nervous about her safety — but not too much, because she will be serving with a group of people.
“Other than that, I'm just worried about missing my family, but I know I'll be OK,” she said. “I know they can come see me in six months.”
Peace Corps members are not allowed to take a break during the three months of training or their first three months of service. Hannah said the longest she has been away from home is one month studying abroad in Costa Rica.
The right fit
Hannah's journey to the Peace Corps has taken more than a year, and it came close to stopping before she ever got the chance to serve.
She first submitted her online application to the Peace Corps in May of 2012. A recruiter called her last August for an interview, and they met for two hours at a coffee shop.
“It was an extensive interview — very demanding,” Hannah said. “He asked me, 'Are you sure you can handle this?' and give me several scenarios. ... I was able to ask him questions about things he was concerned about.”
They told her in December that she would be nominated to Peace Corps organizations in other countries, to figure out where her skills would fit best.
In February, Hannah was invited to serve in Ethiopia. But that offer didn't sit well with her father — or with her.
“As a young woman, it would be challenging,” Hannah said. “I didn't feel like I would be safe there. And I didn't want to end up getting sick over there and have no access to home. It's a long flight.”
She was told she might not get another invitation if she turned this one down, but just before her seven-day deadline, she declined it anyway.
“I was kind of disappointed, because that's what I felt like I was supposed to do with my life,” Hannah said. “I had to remember that if this one didn't work out, there had to be a better one coming up in the future.”
In April, she learned she was right. When she got an invitation to serve in Colombia, Hannah said it didn't take her a day to decide that this was exactly what she wanted to do.
For the next few months, Hannah said, she filled out a stack of medical forms, made several visits to the doctor and got a lot of shots. After she was given medical clearance in June, she had to submit lesson plans and other paperwork for review.
Then, earlier this month, Hannah got the news that she is finally ready.
“I trusted my faith and my gut and left it in God's hands, and it all worked out perfectly,” Fisher said. “I've always known God had a calling for me. It was just a matter of seeking that calling through him.”