The Norman Transcript

November 27, 2008

Norman High School graduate finds calling with Peace Corps

By Peggy Laizure

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."

Life settled into a comfortable routine and for two years Guthrie taught English and country studies to fifth through 11th grades. The country studies include the United States, Canada and Australia.

"I'm really grateful I had the opportunity to go to Ukraine because it was a part of the world I wouldn't have thought to visit," Guthrie said. "I went to Poland and got to experience Eastern Europe."

She is out of the Peace Corps and home for the holidays. Guthrie is moving to Washington, D.C., Jan. 9, 2009. She is working with the Presidential Youth Inaugural Conference. After the Jan. 22, she will find a job, hopefully, she said, in Washington, D.C.

"I went to school in North Carolina and I really liked the East Coast," Guthrie said.

There is a community of returned Peace Corps volunteers there, she said, and that is why she has chosen Washington, D.C.

Her family couldn't be prouder.

"We are truly blessed to have her back home with us for the holidays," said her mother Patti Guthrie. "She has always wanted to expand her wings and try to make the world just a little better place to live. While not able to touch a large amount of people, she has touched many young lives in Ukraine."

Father Dana and brother Drew also are proud.