Leaving home for any extended period of time is always difficult, but former Albion goalie Christin Spoolstra will be the first to admit that leaving all of her friends and family behind for two years of service in the Peace Corps is the most difficult thing she has done.

The former goaltender began pondering a commitment to the Peace Corps, which is a United States government program that sends volunteers to 75 different countries for 27-month periods, her sophomore year at Albion. Spoolstra credits one of her former teammates with sparking her interest.

“The idea of postgraduate service stuck with me, and by junior year, it was my goal as well,” Spoolstra said. “I submitted my application the first month of my senior year, was nominated over winter break and received my invitation to Cambodia the day before I graduated.”

Spoolstra is in her first year of service in the Svay Rieng Province in Cambodia. The area she is stationed in is one of the poorest provinces in the country and is near the Vietnamese border. It is there that Spoolstra teaches high school level classes to local students for 17 hours a week and also tutors some of the Cambodian teachers in conversational English three days per week.

“My purpose in joining the class is to add a native speaker to the classroom as well as introduce more student-centered techniques,” Spoolstra said.

In addition to Spoolstra’s work in the local classrooms she also commits four days a week to coaching the girls basketball team, which she started herself shortly after her arrival. The team has roughly 15 girls from grades 9-11 and there is even talk of a volleyball team forming as well.

“Starting that team was one of my priorities upon arriving,” Spoolstra said. “Because the girls don’t have many options for activities outside of the classroom and sports teams have shown to increase their confidence and involvement at school.”

As if that was not enough work for Spoolstra, she has found time to communicate with two other volunteers in her province about starting a provincial-wide English competition along with writing a basketball coaching manual for future Peace Corps volunteers. Spoolstra has also been a guest lecturer at the local university and is part of a team writing a new national curriculum and textbook for English.

Although Spoolstra has enjoyed the work, she took a moment to reflect on exactly how distant her thoughts of joining the Peace Corps upon her initial enrollment at Albion.

My primary passion is service to others through volunteerism and my time at Albion helped that passion foster and grow.
-- Former Albion goalie Christin Spoolstra

“I was firmly set on following my undergraduate degree with a doctorate from a top law school,” Spoolstra said. “Instead, I became interested in the literature offered in the English Department and in volunteer experience through the Ford Institute and Student Volunteer Bureau.

“I became less and less certain that my future was in law and more and more certain that I needed time before entering a commitment of graduate school. I wanted to explore the world and myself through travel and diverse experience, the type of introspective adventures about which I read in books.”

By her junior year, Spoolstra had begun to think about the Peace Corps, however she was unsure of her postgraduate plans. She decided to go off-campus during the spring of her junior year and completed an internship in Senator Richard Lugar’s office in Washington, D.C. It was there that Spoolstra got the reassuring advice she needed from one of the government’s top officials.

“In a conversation with the Chief of Staff, he advised me against law school, advocating instead for me to determine my passion in life and follow it,” Spoolstra said. “My primary passion is service to others through volunteerism and my time at Albion helped that passion foster and grow.”

Spoolstra cited her experiences as a tutor at Washington Garnder Middle School in Albion as well as trips to Cass Community Social Services in Detroit as some of the most motivating and inspiring factors that led to her passion for service and volunteering.

Even with this great passion and burning desire to see the world and learn more about her intellectual self, Spoolstra considered walking away from the opportunity to serve in the Peace Corps altogether while she was waiting for her plane to board at O’Hare Airport.

“Some friends had written me letters with specific instructions not to open them until I was on the plane,” Spoolstra explained. “I figured the departure waiting area was close enough. I read through the letters, drowning myself in the kind and loving words of some close friends.

“At that moment the longevity of two years hit me for the first time. I knew from the start that I would be unable to visit during the length of my service, but two years always seemed so abstract to me until that moment.

“The nerves kept growing and I started to envision just how bad it would be for me to walk right out of the airport, if my friends and family and professors would understand and forgive me. After contemplating such a situation I knew that, yes, they would forgive me, they would understand except for one person. One person would never forgive me for such doubt, weakness and fear. That person was me. So I got on the plane.”

After getting settled in Cambodia with her host family, Spoolstra began to learn about the culture and realized she was quite a long way from home.

“The biggest cultural difference that is a part of my daily life is the role of women in Cambodia,” Spoolstra said. “Women must at all times be dressed conservatively [shoulders and knees covered], sit, stand, walk appropriately and be obedient to family members.”

This was the most difficult adjustment for her due to the American way of life and the independence of women in the United States.

Spoolstra noted her brashness and independence are often out of place, but because of her foreign status she can do certain things Khmer women cannot.

Such activities include spending time with friends and being able to drink alcohol casually. However, there are still activities that are only to be done by men such as play bocce ball with the teachers, pool or playing cards when it is associated with gambling.

Spoolstra makes sure to stay in shape, and while on her runs she takes a memento to remind hero of lessons learned at Albion.“I often wear my lacrosse shirt while running here in Cambodia,” Spoolstra said. “And I remember how Coach [Jaclyn] Rutkowski always pushed us to ‘Finish Strong’ and how that lesson extends to far more than a final set of suicide sprints.”