JUNE 30, 1997
Ellen Bek has left for Ethiopia
by Mina Hochberg
At first, she hesitated. Ethiopia didn't sound like the safest place to live for two years. But after researching the country and opening her mind, Ellen Bek of Woodinville left the United States late June for a two-year program with the Peace Corps in Ethiopia.
"I was a little discouraged because I was not expecting [to be assigned to] that region of the world," Bek said. She was concerned about the stability of the region. However, after some research, she says she is now excited to travel to Africa and see how the people live there.
Bek will teach English as a second language (ESL) to a class of at least 45 students. After three months of training near the town of Addis Ababa, she will select a town in which to teach. She decided to apply for the Peace Corps two years ago to "take a rest" before starting graduate school.
"I want to see somewhere new and do something for myself and my country and another country," she said. Africa will be the fourth continent Bek has lived on. Although Massachusetts is her home state, she grew up in Thailand and France. She said this world experience probably helped her gain acceptance into the Peace Corps.
According to Renee Bouvion, Peace Corps regional recruitment coordinator and Bek's recruiter, joining the Peace Corps is a highly competitive process. Last year, only 500 out of 1,000 regional applicants were nominated by recruiters to join the Peace Corps. Nationwide, only 4,000 out of 10,000 applicants were selected to become Peace Corps trainees. Recruiters look for people with technical skill, motivation to help others, and the ability to adapt to another culture.
In Ethiopia, Bek will learn and speak the native language, Amharic, a combination of Arab, Hebrew, and Egyptian. Her clothing must cover her legs, arms, and shoulders, and preferably her ankles. (Should she decide to go for a jog, the aforementioned body parts must remain concealed.) Jeans may only be worn in formal situations. Forks and spoons are not used, although "enjera," which Bek says resembles a tortilla, acts like a French baguette and is used as a scooping utensil.
Bek is going not only to satisfy a desire to travel, but also to dispel or support the stereotypes that she has long associated with Ethiopia.
"We hear rumors about starving people, but I've seen pictures that don't show that," Bek said, and added she would like to see "how the people really live."
Bek graduated from Woodinville High School in 1993 and from Washington State University as a pre-law student with a degree in English. She plans to attend law school following the Peace Corps.