At 27, Atlantic Beach resident Katherine “Kaydee” Gavron is already a world traveler, having moved to other countries to experience their cultures.
She has spent time in Argentina, Finland, France, Italy and Malta. And this weekend, she’s heading to Washington, DC, for an orientation on her next international adventure — as a Peace Corps volunteer working with youth in Costa Rica.
“Most people follow a prescribed path,” Gavron said, but in high school she wanted to learn “about different ways of life. I wanted to take life by the reins.”
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Gavron will be among the first Peace Corps volunteers to return to overseas service since the agency’s COVID-19 evacuation in March 2020. The agency suspended global operations and evacuated about 7,000 more volunteers from 60 countries.
This year, the agency has resumed recruiting volunteers to serve in 42 countries that have requested the return of volunteers, but is monitoring COVID-19 in those countries.
Established by President John F. Kennedy in 1961, the Peace Corps is an international network of volunteer services, community members, host nation partners and personnel.
At the invitation of governments around the world, approximately 240,000 Peace Corps Volunteers have served in 142 countries around the world, working alongside community members on local priority projects in education, health, environment, agriculture, community economic development and youth development.
Gavron and other 2022 volunteers will serve 27 months in their country of assignment, living with host families. They will undergo three months of training and then collaborate with their communities on local priority projects and all will engage in COVID-19 response and recovery work, according to the agency.
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“The world is at a critical juncture,” said CEO Carol Spahn. “The largest global vaccination effort in history is underway as other widespread health, social, political and environmental issues continue to erode the foundations of our global society. Actions taken in the coming years have the potential to have a fundamental impact on development trajectories for decades to come.”
‘Life changes’, overseas visits lead to Peace Corps decision
Gavron graduated from Fletcher High School in Jacksonville Beach and earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Florida. She originally planned to study biology but changed majors.
“I’m so glad I did,” she said. “I didn’t like science.”
After college, she went through what she called a series of “life changes,” including the death of her father, the end of a six-year relationship, living alone for the first time, and the pandemic. She worked in marketing, “using psychology to sell things to people,” she said, “but that wasn’t what I was doing.”
Afterwards, she spent a few months working in other countries through the Workaway program, which organizes homestays and cultural exchanges. Volunteers contribute a pre-agreed time per day in return for accommodation and food provided by their host.
Gavron said she worked on a farm in one location and in inns in other locations.
“I was alone,” she said. “It was isolating, but a really good challenge.”
Her life experiences told her that she needed to devote her time to “something that sparks passion”, like helping people, especially young people. She applied to the Peace Corps before the pandemic but never followed through — until this year.
“I believe in living in community,” she said, “taking care of each other.”
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So the idea of living and working in an overseas community was appealing, she said.
“I had no problem giving two years of my life,” she said, and she believes in the Peace Corps’ approach to its host nations. “We don’t force ideology.”
Because of his stay in Argentina, Gavron knows the Spanish language, which will be a plus in Costa Rica. She has worked with young people before and can apply what she remembers to her own youth struggles.
She wants to be a model.
“I want to be the person I needed to grow up…it helps reassure you that you matter,” she said.
The first step toward her new life will be a three-day orientation in Washington with other volunteers. Then she heads to Costa Rica for her three months of training.
“I’m ready to take that big leap. I know I can handle it,” she said. Even though things are going in an unexpected direction, she said, “I’d rather have an oops than a simulation.”
“For people who say, ‘I could never do that,’ there’s nothing stopping you,” she said.
For more information, contact the Peace Corps at (855) 855-1961 or at peacecorps.gov. To apply, call (202) 692-1040, email [email protected], or go to peacecorps.gov/apply.