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posted: 7/9/2012 8:02 AM

Cary resident travels to South Africa via Peace Corps

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  • Emily Rademaker, a Cary resident and recent graduate of North Central College, is heading to South Africa with the Peace Corps for the next 27 months. She will be in Kwa-Zulu Natal, a northwest province, serving as an English and health educator.

       Emily Rademaker, a Cary resident and recent graduate of North Central College, is heading to South Africa with the Peace Corps for the next 27 months. She will be in Kwa-Zulu Natal, a northwest province, serving as an English and health educator.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

By Hannah Meisel

While many recent college graduates may be camping out in their parents' house, frantically sending out resumes and rethinking the degree they just graduated with, Emily Rademaker is following a different path.

The 22-year-old Cary native is embracing her newfound freedom, and on Tuesday, July 10, she will pledge the next 27 months of her life to service in the Peace Corps in South Africa.

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Only two months after her graduation from North Central College with degrees in classical civilizations and German, Rademaker is embarking on a journey she's had in mind since her freshman year at the college. She said this is a natural extension of the service she's been interested in her entire life.

"I've always been involved with service projects through my parents and through our church," she said. "And North Central -- the whole school is very focused on service, so it's something I really hold near and dear. I feel you can learn the most through service."

Rademaker's service journey will begin in the provinces of Kwa-Zulu Natal and Mpulmalanga, South Africa for three months of training and intense culture and language immersion. In September, she will take her oath for two years of service in an area of South Africa still unknown to her.

As she put it, she could either be living in a hut in a very impoverished village, or in a mid-sized city with running water and electricity.

"South Africa has a very diverse culture and a diverse group of people," she said. "It's truly the first world living alongside the Third World. It's very different in the sense that I don't know what to expect."

But Rademaker also pointed out that similar proximities in class stratification exist here in the U.S.

From her experience in the Peace Corps, her current plans include a Ph.D. in public policy or poverty studies in order to promote greater change at the national and international level.

"Right now I want to learn as much as I can and travel as much as I can," she said. "I hope I can take it and help develop and research poverty around the world."

The best way to do this, in Rademaker's opinion, is through first learning the culture of a particular area, then fitting the solution to a problem within the parameters of that culture. Her father, Dana Rademaker, said this is a value he set forth to instill in his four children.

"I just wanted to make (my children) aware of other cultures and open to the idea that you could experience and interact with other cultures in a positive way," he said.

Dana Rademaker said a large part of his family's growing up was devoted to service, something reflected in not just Emily; her two older brothers are serving in the military in Iraq and Afghanistan. He said these learning experiences have been valuable in his children's journey to adulthood.

"They're willing to try new experiences -- not necessarily going with ones they're comfortable with," he said. "They're willing to look for their own way of growing up with their own talents."

Rademaker's talent for leadership was one she cultivated while at North Central in Naperville -- the student body president graduated with honors and was voted the recipient of a student leadership award by her class. At graduation, she also met current Peace Corps director Aaron S. Williams.

In South Africa, much of Rademaker's work in and out of the classroom will focus on HIV and AIDS education and prevention, something close to her heart. Again, she will use the cultural guidelines she learns in order to educate in a respectful manner, something she hopes to carry through her work all her life.

"I really value relationships between people and what you can learn from each other," she said. "We, of course, want to figure out how hardships can be minimized as much as possible, but first, to be able to do that, we must learn what the common denominator is."

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