For Peace Corps volunteer Matthew Thielker, serving others is an international endeavor
By Zoë Fisher ('17)
After earning a certificate in Food and Nutrition–Dietetics from the Niehoff School of Nursing last year, Matthew Thielker, MPH, RD, headed halfway around the world to begin a two-year stint with the Peace Corps in Cambodia.
Thielker, who spent most of his life in Nebraska, plans to pursue a career in international development and is hopeful that his time with the Peace Corps will allow him to better understand communities around the world and how members of those communities overcome the challenges they face. His goal, he says, “isn’t to save the world, but to help other people’s voices be heard.”
Before embarking on his trip, Thielker shared a few thoughts about his passion for volunteering, his Loyola experience, and his hopes for the future.
Why did you decide to join the Peace Corps?
I wanted to understand what situations were like on the ground in different communities. It’s not a simple process to decide to leave your comfort zone, but it just felt right. I am still a little uncertain about how things are going to work out, but I am looking forward to being out of my element and being challenged.
Did you choose Cambodia as the place where you wanted to serve?
When I applied I asked to go to Peru, but they decided I was needed more in Cambodia. But of course, I'm more than happy to serve anywhere.
Do you have any concerns about going to Cambodia?
I was born Deaf, so one of the things I expect to be most challenging will be immersing myself in a culture that might not have the same attitudes towards people with deafness. The U.S. is pretty unique in that Deaf people are relatively well-supported and visible. People living in other places might not have as much interaction with those who are Deaf and might not realize Deaf people are very much capable of the same things that they are.
What are you going to be focusing on while you're there?
I’m sure a lot of it will vary from day to day, but generally we’ll be providing nutrition, maternal-child health, and sanitation education to local citizens who will then disperse that information within their own communities.
What tools did Loyola give you to prepare you for your trip?
Being a Jesuit institution definitely has a tangible impact on the focus of Loyola’s programs. The dietetics program had a public health focus that provided a more holistic way of evaluating a person’s health, the health of communities, and the connections between the two.
When I studied at Loyola, the questions of “how can we best serve others?” and “how can we make things better?” were in the forefront of the things we did. Being immersed in that mindset makes you keep asking those questions well after graduation.
What inspired you to go into service?
The culmination of interacting with people from different cultures and places I’ve already been to has really inspired me. It showed me there’s more than one way to look at things.
What would you tell people considering joining the Peace Corps?
If anyone has an interest in service and isn’t sure what to pick, I would definitely say go for the Peace Corps. It involves a time commitment of at least two years, which seems daunting, but it is just long enough for volunteers to really get to know the communities they serve and figure out how to contribute most effectively.
In general, I'd say serving your community makes you a more complete person. Volunteering has been more rewarding to me than most people would realize. I don’t think I'd be the same person if I didn’t give back to my community.