The Norman Transcript

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November 27, 2008

Norman High School graduate finds calling with Peace Corps

Kelly Guthrie, born and raised in Norman, caught a travel bug from her uncle and after graduating from Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., she knew she wanted to go abroad again.

She had studied Spanish and wanted to experience a new culture, try new food and see how other people live.

An alumna of Wake Forest told Guthrie about the refugees in Haiti and suggested she join the Peace Corps. Guthrie looked into it her senior year and by May she was accepted into the Peace Corps.

Guthrie has never been to South America and she wanted to use the Spanish she learned. She asked the Corps but said she would go where they needed her the most.

So she was sent about as far away from South America as can be -- Ukraine.

"Ukraine has the biggest Peace Corps," Guthrie said. "There were 300 volunteers there when I started."

She left the United States in September 2006. She and 107 others were in the capital, Kyiv, for three months in different training groups. The groups were housed in small towns around the city.

Guthrie was nearly one and a half hours away in Kozolets. She lived with a widow and her mother. Guthrie spoke no Ukrainian and they spoke no English. Dinner conversation was tried for about two minutes, she said, then everyone would be frustrated.

"After three or four weeks, she knew what I wanted and it was better," Guthrie said.

Guthrie learned Ukrainian and understands Russian although she doesn't speak Russian.

The group was stationed at their permanent sights two days from Christmas, Guthrie's first away from family. Christmas in Ukraine is Jan. 7.

"So Christmas (Dec. 25) meant nothing to our host families," Guthrie said. "My family got a Christmas tree from a tree farm and we had our Christmas in September before I left."

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