Cat Richardson ('13): Peace Corps Volunteer

Posted on: Thursday, April 14th, 2016 by Monica Hoel

After two years in Moldova working with the Peace Corps, Cat Richardson talks like a woman who has gained wisdom from her experience. “I don't think I'm out here saving the world, but I am trying to help people however I can. It doesn't take much to change a life; mine has probably been altered a hundred times since I started this journey. So even if you can't drop everything and move 5,000 miles away, everyone can spread a little peace and friendship.”

The tiny East European, Romanian-speaking country was chosen by the Peace Corps for her service, and it has offered Cat experiences she never dreamed of -–  and will never forget. She has mainly worked in the equivalent of the mayor’s office and has done everything from help community members write grants to run an English club where kids and adults can learn a second language. She’s been involved with building a park and playground, teaching computer skills, holding a camp to encourage girls to pursue a career in IT, and constructing pipelines for water. And, perhaps surprisingly, she has used her E&H Mass Communications degree –- a lot. “My professors will be happy to know that I have shot and edited video, written articles, designed logos and publications, and worked on tech support. Having all those skills has helped with work in my village, but it's also connected me with other Peace Corps Volunteers and helped me to make their work more effective, too.”

She admits to the challenges of her experience. The village where she has lived has only 3,000 residents, and not one of them speaks English. “The official language is Romanian, which is the language I learned when I arrived. Most people also speak Russian, and my village is a stone's throw from the Ukrainian border, so speaking to villagers can be a daily adventure in language.”

But this tiny village has adopted her as one of their own. “I feel completely safe here because I think they all think of me as a daughter, a granddaughter, a big sister. The people I've met here, both Moldovan and American, are just amazing. I'm inspired by my fellow volunteers every day, and so many Moldovans have been so kind to this strange American girl that showed up suddenly to try to help them out a little.”

She returns to the U.S. in August of 2016, and she absolutely recommends time in the Peace Corps to others. “It can be life-changing. It will push you so far out of your comfort zone you'll forget you have one.  You'll learn a lot about the world, other people and viewpoints, yourself. You'll meet the coolest people and have so many crazy stories that you won't even be able to tell them all.”

Cat expresses joy for being home that is mingled with a little sadness for leaving a community that has taught her so much, graciously accepted her offer of service, and nurtured her personally.  “I will miss all the people I've met and friends I've made, the quiet life of the village, the kids I teach English to, the sense of accomplishment that sometimes comes from a really successful conversation in Romanian, my favorite Russian coffee packets, the proximity to the rest of Europe, the barrels of wine in everyone's cellar.”

When asked what she plans to do first when she gets home, she boldly answers, “EAT EVERYTHING. There is good food here, and there is a traditional dish or two that I'll be bringing home a recipe for, but there is so much more flavor in the States! Yes, I'll want to see my friends and family, but let's do it over Mexican and margaritas, please.”


Photos: Cover - Wearing a traditional Moldovan costume for the regional Wine Day festivities. Left: Cutting the ribbon for a park she helped build. Right: Making wine on Wine Day.

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