Marissa Schaefer was looking for something bigger than a classroom when she graduated with a master’s degree in education in 2010. Now, some 3,000 miles, 15 months and one giant map of the world later, she says joining the Peace Corps has turned into the largest—and most rewarding—adventure she’s ever been on.
Ecuador, where Schaefer volunteers, is a small country on South America’s west coast. There, her job is to help teachers become better English speakers, and to help make English classes more effective and fun.
Her latest venture, the World Map Project, has captured the attention of both students and teachers in the school where she works. The world map, a tradition among Peace Corps volunteers, outlines and labels every continent and country on the globe. It took Schaefer, the students and others a week to construct and paint on a wall outside her office. The group finished off the project by bordering the map with their handprints, and the area now serves as a hangout spot for the students.
“My students have seen maps before, but their geographical knowledge was low. Many of them were not able to identify where countries on the same continent were,” she says. “They really loved the idea of the project. They threw themselves into the work and came in early everyday. Their dedication was astounding.”
With one year remaining in Ecuador, Schaefer hopes to accomplish a few more things before coming home. She plans to start a school-wide recycling program, and she wants to organize more teacher training workshops.
And, maybe, she can look at the map on the wall and convince others that life is an adventure and there’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored—just like she’s doing.