By Jessi Atha
When Oíste asked me to write a volunteer spotlight on Michael Owen, I figured I wouldn’t even have to interview him. The man is so open and outgoing, not to mention I thought I knew all there was to know about him, since he is my site mate. I realized there is so much more to this Iowan’s mid-western charm. He is a lifelong learner and a citizen of the world. I hope you enjoy getting to know more about this guy as much as I did.
Michael, I know you’ve always been a big traveler. Where have you been?
I have been traveling since before I could walk! Outside of visiting 38 of the 50 states, I have had the opportunity to travel to Costa Rica, Guatemala, Panama, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Taiwan, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Spain, Italy, the Vatican City, Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland, Colombia, and in March, will travel to Peru!
So this is the longest you’ve lived in a different country. What did you accomplish in your first year and what are your plans for year two?
By far the biggest accomplishment that I had in my first year was the creation of my community classes. The opportunity to work with the wonderful people of Repelón literally fell into my lap and has been nothing short of amazing. This also really helped me to integrate into the community, following my move from Barranquilla. Another major accomplishment has been my close friendship with the police chief. It still, to this day, amazes me that my best friend here is a cop! Through our English classes, early morning runs, and general life chats, I’ve really come to appreciate the Colombian way of life.
As far as year two goes, I’m really looking forward to continuing to challenge myself and step out of my comfort zone. Now that I’ve been here for almost a year, I’m ready to strengthen current relationships and create some new meaningful ones. I’m also very excited for the school year. The end of last year was a bit rough because of multiple changes in administration and policy. I can already tell that this year is going to be a much more exciting and fulfilling year, which really excites me!
Your passion and talent for teaching are pretty evident to any one that knows you. Tell me, have you always wanted to be a teacher and what is your secret for staying motivated here?
I have wanted to be a teacher since about 3rd grade I believe. I have always loved working with people in both formal and informal settings. My various teaching experiences have taught me that the part of the job that I love the most is reaching my students. This is definitely challenging, but that challenge fuels me to try and come up with new ways to present material in a way that clicks with my students.
Working in the schools here on coast is definitely a challenge, for multiple reasons. My motivation stems from the goal of having my own classroom someday. I have yet to experience this, so I’m constantly observing how things are done in other countries and classrooms to try and get a better sense of how I want to run my classroom someday. I also am using this experience as a chance to try new techniques that I’ve learned throughout the years to see how they work in real situations. All of this, plus an overall passion for teaching and imparting new knowledge on the youth of today, helps to keep me motivated day in and day out.
You just greeted 29 new volunteers at the airport. Do you have any words of wisdom for them as they begin their Peace Corps service?
Man, that’s a loaded question right there! The biggest piece of advice would have to be to embrace the challenges of the next two years with an open mind and flexibility. You are going to experience numerous highs and lows. Its just part of the Peace Corps reality. Make sure that you celebrate your successes, but also don’t let your failures deter you from what you came here to do. It’s been from some of my biggest failures that my greatest successes have happened.
Finally, our readers are dying to know, what is your spirit animal?
I would have to say that my spirit animal is a tiger – not really sure why I feel this way, but I’ve just always really liked tigers!
Thanks, Michael! Keep on truckin’ and best of wishes to you in your 2nd year of service.