Students were to choose an unfamiliar spot in Costa Rica, go there for two weeks, alone, and learn something new. Without any advance plans.
Judy Schroeder’81, then a 19-year-old Beloiter in Costa Rica’s capital on an Associated Colleges of the Midwest (ACM) study abroad seminar, recalls not questioning the challenge from program director and former Beloit professor Alonso Benavides.
She left San Jose, her professors, and peers, following her gut instincts and love of beaches south to Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula.
On a bus, she met Dellanira, a friendly local woman who offered a place to stay.
Schroeder moved into a hastily arranged room Dellanira’s sons tacked onto the family’s remote cabin. The place had no electricity or running water, but Schroeder fell in love with the family as they cooked, ate, and spent time together.
At the end of her stay, she offered to pay. The family refused her money.
Her host said she always helps students, and her “payment” would come when they return to assist communities like hers after graduation.
Schroeder rejoined her ACM group in the city to finish the semester, but Dellanira’s family and their generosity in the face of poverty stayed with her.
“My eyes had been opened,” Schroeder wrote at the time. “I didn’t merely want to observe and learn — I wanted to ‘do.’ If I wanted to help people like Dellanira and her family, I needed to dedicate my life to working in and supporting communities in the developing world. And that meant the Peace Corps.”
Schroeder signed up to serve in Guatemala after graduating from Beloit with a double major in international relations and Spanish, but political violence at the time curtailed that program.
The Peace Corps offered Liberia or Swaziland on the African continent instead. Schroeder asked then-Beloit professor of anthropology Larry Breitborde for advice, and he pointed her toward Liberia, where she ended up serving for two years. That may have been decades ago, yet the Peace Corps, Liberia, and its people are still in her heart.
This year, one of Schroeder’s essays and a photograph she shot while living in Liberia were selected for an anthology: Never the Same Again: Life, Service, and Friendship in Liberia.
Published by Friends of Liberia — a Peace Corps alumni group Schroeder belongs to — the collection includes non-fiction, poems, and photographs spanning 60 years. Proceeds contribute to Liberia’s long-term development through the Friends.
“The anthology shares personal accounts of life in the country’s villages, classrooms, and clinics, and describes the powerful and enduring impact that the hopes and tragedies of Liberia continue to have on all our lives,” Schroeder says.
The daughter of Beloiters LaVern Hoener Schroeder’55 and professor emeritus of physics and astronomy Dan Schroeder’55, Judy Schroeder earned her master’s degree from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs following her Peace Corps stint. She worked in Latin America positions based in New York until she found an opening to return to the field.
She joined the humanitarian agency CARE International to manage a refugee project in Costa Rica and Honduras, followed by assignments living and working in Peru, then India. After 20-plus years overseas, she eventually brought her keen interests in the world back to the United States to raise a family, followed by several years of consulting with development organizations in India, including CARE and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The anthology and the Peace Corps’ 50th anniversary in 2011 renewed her belief in the power of the Peace Corps’ mission and her Beloit education. Her Liberia anthology photo, and others she has published, reflect lessons learned from former Beloit photography professor Michael Simon.
“Beloit can take you anywhere in the world you want to go,” she says, “and prepare you for whatever you are asked to do.”