University of Mount Olive Alumna Has a Servant’s Heart
I love seeing new places and meeting new people,” said Alison Cook a Peace Corps volunteer. “You learn so much not only about the country and the people in which you are serving, but also about yourself. You learn what skills and talents you have and use them in ways that benefit the lives of others. It is an incredible feeling to know that you will be remembered for making a positive impact on the life or lives of other people.”
Cook a 1999 graduate of University of Mount Olive has been volunteering with the Peace Corps off-and-on since 2002. She’s served two separate tours of duty in Taldykorgan, Kazakhstan where she taught English and environmental education. In 2010 she went to Granada, Spain to earn her TEFL International TESOL Certificate through the British Council. The certificate has aided her in writing better lesson plans and with classroom instruction and management. She has also traveled to Belgium, England, Scotland, France, Germany, and Amsterdam.
Most recently, from April to July 2012, Cook served as a Peace Corps Response Volunteer with the Department of Ministry of Protected Areas in the Republic of Georgia. Her main objectives were to teach English to the staff members at Sataplia Natural Reserve and Prometheus Cave; promote tourism for the areas; and develop Facebook pages for both sites.
“It is not easy to get into Peace Corps,” Cook said, “but once you get in, you get opportunities to expand your horizons and work in different places. Where you are sent is based on your education, experience, and languages you speak.” Cook speaks fluent Russian, which she learned in Kazakhstan and conversational Spanish.
“Working with Peace Corps has helped me to understand people better,” Cook shared. “It has given me the opportunity to step back and observe the lives of others and to accept people for who they are. I have learned patience, and compassion. I have also watched my students from my first assignment in Kazakhstan grow up. I have watched them change and grow into good students and productive adults. I recently saw one of my students in Taldykorgan. Her English is quite nice now. She hugged me and thanked me for helping her.”
Cook credits University of Mount Olive and Dianne Riley for helping fuel her compassion and drive for helping others. “I think my four years at University of Mount Olive is what has made my experience overseas successful. I cannot think of MOC without thinking of Dianne Riley. She was director of Admissions in 1995 and was the one who recruited me. Not only did she recruit me, but she also took care of me the entire four years I was at Mount Olive. I would not have become the person I am today, without her in my life. When I enrolled at MOC, it had been less than a year since my brother passed away. My family and I were still having a difficult time with his loss. Dianne knew this and made the decision to take me “under her wing”. She helped me and believed in me. I know Dianne’s belief in me helped me to overcome my own self-doubt, so I wanted to give back what I was given.”
After the attacks on September 11, 2001 Cook was deeply saddened. She felt a strong desire to do something to help America. “I wanted to find something good out of something bad. To turn anger into compassion,” she said. She chose to apply to the Peace Corps. In January of 2002 her application was sent and she was accepted six months later.
Cook views her contributions to the Peace Corps as a way to strengthen the relationship between America and the countries in which she serves. This belief was recently solidified when Cook met Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Batumi, Georgia. “I was so honored to be one of the ones asked to meet with Mrs. Clinton. She was very nice and thanked us for our work with Peace Corps. She called us ‘working ambassadors’ for the United States of America. That was an amazing compliment. At that moment, a peace came over me. I knew immediately I was doing what God wants me to do.”
Thirty-five year-old Cook is a Beaufort County native. She is the daughter of Wayne and Jennifer Cook of Bath. During the upcoming year Cook will work with the Polk County Schools. She would one day like to volunteer with the Peace Corps in South America. “Maybe in Peru or Argentina,” she said. For now, she is already saving up for a return visit to Kazakhstan next summer. “It’s like a second home for me,” she expressed. “A part of my heart will always be there.”
University of Mount Olive is a private institution rooted in the liberal arts tradition with defining Christian values. The College, sponsored by the Convention of Original Free Will Baptists, has locations in Mount Olive, New Bern, Wilmington, Goldsboro, Research Triangle Park, Washington and Jacksonville. For more information, visit www.moc.edu.