It’s Time to Meet the New Jefe

by Kathleen Rodriguez

InterviewWithGeralyn,Kathleen.1jpgShe’s finally here. Everyone has been waiting anxiously for the chance to meet her to find out: who is it that sits behind the country director’s desk? The Oíste team was happy to have the opportunity to speak with Geralyn Sheehan, Peace Corps Colombia’s new Country Director.

Geralyn has a career background full of variety.  After receiving her Bachelor’s degree in Spanish and Latin American Studies, she began working as a social worker for newly arrived refugees who needed help with their transition to life in the states. Appalled by the blatant racism and unfair treatment she witnessed by employers, apartment owners, and others, she decided to get a law degree in hopes to reform the system.

She spent a few years working in a law firm, but soon decided to switch gears again. Her ambition led her to apply for a grant, which paid for her two-year Master Public Administration with a focus on Community and Economic Development (CED) from Harvard University. This degree (combined with the variety of her work and studies) has allowed Geralyn to pursue her passion of working with vulnerable communities in the U.S. and in Latin America for the past 25 years.

During her time in Nicaragua, Geralyn was inspired to apply for a Peace Corps position by two of her ex-pat friends, both of whom had worked for Peace Corps. Geralyn is thrilled by the opportunity to work for Peace Corps Colombia, but admits that, “this is the first time I’ve ever moved anywhere without any family. I’m definitely on a learning curve.” Leaving behind her 23-year-old daughter was no doubt a huge challenge.

I was curious and asked Geralyn about her vision for Peace Corps Colombia. “I believe that our move to rural communities was a good decision,” she explained. “Economic development in rural communities is going to be largely dependent on two sectors: agriculture and tourism. CED and TEL (Teaching English for Livelihoods) are like two pieces of a puzzle that I’d eventually like to connect, so that one supports and compliments the other.”

The vision is two-fold. “Colombia is also entering a new chapter with the possible peace accord scheduled to be signed in March. We’d like to eventually expand the areas that Peace Corps serves in, and develop more consistency and continuity with counterparts. Ideally, we’d like to have three consecutive volunteers in each site, as we move toward more sustainability,” she added.

Aside from her professional duties, Geralyn is also excited to pursue other personal interests, which include hiking, photography, reading, and cooking. She says not to be surprised if she shows up at site with a camera, as her ultimate goal is to fill her office with pictures of volunteers doing their amazing work in their different communities.

Geralyn leaves us these words of wisdom, “While 27 months feels like eternity, remember it is really just a short moment. It’s such a unique experience, and most Americans will never experience culture in the way that you have. Pour your heart out and share everything you’ve got. That’s the greatest gift you can give to Colombia, and to yourself, because you will really be transformed by it.”

Thank you, Geralyn. We are so inspired by your ambition and your eagerness to dive in with both feet. We can’t wait to see where we go from here.

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