Q&A With Aryn Eldridge

Spotlight Date: 
April 27, 2018
Aryn Eldridge

Dreyfoos alum, Aryn Eldridge, was a vocal major before graduating in 2011 and going on to attend college at Florida State University. When Aryn was a student at Dreyfoos, she began volunteering in local NGO’s, soup kitchens, and other community groups. This passion for volunteer work and the community eventually led her to the Peace Corps. Aryn is currently a Community and Youth Development volunteer in Ijevan, Armenia.

Q: What year did you graduate Dreyfoos?

2011

Q: Dreyfoos Department?

Vocal

Q. Where did you attend college?

Florida State University

Q: Favorite Dreyfoos teachers? 

Both of the Mr. Anands (for Biology and French), Mrs. Meehan (Science), Mrs. Bryant (Math), Mr. Johnson (English), and although I never had Mr. Ruth as a teacher, he was the Girl’s Soccer Team Assistant coach and he was fantastic.

Q:What sparked your interest in the Peace Corps.?

I started volunteering with local NGO’s, soup kitchens, and community groups while attending Dreyfoos. I realized I loved volunteering and getting to know my community from a different perspective. I started thinking about Peace Corps while in college because it seemed like a wonderful opportunity to gain experience in the Community Development field, learn about a new culture and language, and see the world. However, the idea of being away for 27 months made me nervous. After living and working abroad for a year in South Korea teaching English though, I knew I could commit to 27 months so I decided to apply for the Peace Corps.

Q: Do you feel as though your education and experience in vocal has benefitted you in your current endeavors?

Definitely. As a vocal major I was introduced to different languages through music as well as found confidence within myself to sing in front of my peers, teachers, and crowds. I still experience slight stage fright to this day but Dreyfoos gave me the ability to stand in front of a group of strangers and speak, to learn a new language, and my ability to connect with communities through music. For example, one of the Armenian Organizations I work with in my city of Ijevan is the regional diocese. My counterpart is a phenomenal singer and leads the church choir in our city every Sunday. Once she found out that I could sing, she invited me to join the choir. So now I spend my Sunday mornings singing Armenian hymns with my community members. It has been the best experience for me to connect with my neighborhood and Dreyfoos helped me get here. 

Q: Is there something Dreyfoos could have provided that could have better prepared you for your college and your current position?

Dreyfoos had a debate team while I was attending the school but I recall it was only open to Communication majors. Many majors in fact only allowed certain classes to non-majors and while I understand the reasoning for this decision, I believe a debate class/club should be open to all students. Debating is an undervalued skill that can be incredibly useful later on in life. It teaches you to look at an issue from different perspectives, research it, and then state your points. Our current culture in America is one fueled by arguments: who is right? Who is wrong? Etc. I feel that having debate skills can allow a person to calmly state their point of view using facts to back it up, while also being able to listen to a different belief without saying “that is wrong”.

Q: Tell us a little bit about the work you do in the Peace Corps.

I am a Community and Youth Development volunteer with Peace Corps Armenia. I moved here a little over a year ago and live in a city called Ijevan. This city is in the Northeast part of the country and is located in a region that still experiences some conflict along the border with Azerbaijan. I work with two local Armenian organizations; Bridge of Hope, which dedicates their resources towards supporting children and families living with disabilities, and the Diocese of Tavush. My work varies between both placements but overall my job is to help support and develop these organizations using their own resources, expertise, and experiences. I help with grant writing, creating developmental programing for the youth of our community, lead training sessions, develop websites, strengthen marketing for one of our social-enterprises, and assist with video editing/photography. I am also a part of various Peace Corps Volunteer led committees that focus on promoting gender equality throughout Armenia, empowering young Armenian girls, advocating for animal welfare, as well as encouraging creativity through international English creative writing competitions.

Q: What is your favorite part of working abroad?

Meeting new people and learning about a new culture. I think it is important to experience being a foreigner. It brings about certain challenges and perspectives that one does not necessarily think about while living in their home country.

Q: What would you say is the biggest challenge?

Being a social person yet living in a country where you are not speaking your native language. It can feel very isolating at times and I know my Armenian friends think I am a much quieter person than I actually am. However, I am learning the language, becoming more comfortable, and have made friends in my community who speak some English. Those coffee breaks are always the most fun because they will practice their English with me but I will answer in Armenian in order to practice myself.

Q: What has been the highlight of your time with the Peace Corps. so far?

I would say that a highlight of my service is being so involved/connected with the local church. I do not consider myself a religious person but you can find a strong sense of community in a church and I have found that here in Ijevan. Armenia was the first country to adopt Christianity as its official religion during the 4th century. Therefore, religion is rooted in much of the country’s traditions, customs, holidays, and events. Working for the Diocese and singing in the choir has allowed me to experience Armenian holidays in a unique light. I feel that this opportunity allows me to really learn about Armenia’s history and I am very fortunate for the ability to sing with my community members in the church choir.

Q: You have worked for a couple different volunteer organizations while you were a student at FSU. Can you tell us a little about that work, and did it have any impact on your decision to go into the Peace Corps.?

It definitely had an impact on joining the Peace Corps. While at FSU, I volunteered with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Habitat for Humanity, Obama’s 2012 campaign, and with the Psi Chi Honor Society. However, my most memorable and meaningful experience was as a Community Outreach Facilitator with FSU’s Center for Leadership and Social Change. Once a week I led a group of FSU students to a local Transitional Shelter. This center in Tallahassee provided a home to families and individuals for 6 months as they applied for jobs, tried to secure housing, and trying to adjust from living on the streets to finding a stable home. The volunteers and I would visit for about 3 hours and play with the children while the parents rested or took the time to get their work done. I loved feeling connected to my community in that way and I loved sharing that experience with other FSU students. I also learned, through this experience, the various prejudices held towards individuals experiencing homelessness as well as learned more about the reasons behind homelessness. It opened my eyes to a world different than my own and this is basically the idea behind Peace Corps service. It was through this work that I started looking into life in social work and community development.

Q: What recommendations do you have for our current Dreyfoos students?

Get involved in your community. Even if you think you know what is going on around you, there is always something to learn. Volunteering has taught me so many lessons about myself, about how I view the world, and how to live my life with a more open mind. It has also led me to meet some of the most inspiring people. Also, do not let fear stop you from applying to something. I NEVER thought I would be the person to teach English in South Korea and then join the Peace Corps. However, I wanted to travel, learn more about people around the world, and become a part of different communities. I was horrified both times before moving abroad, and it definitely has its difficulties, but I wouldn’t trade these experiences for the world. So if there is something you want, go for it! There is never harm in applying.

Q: In a brief statement can you explain “What does Dreyfoos mean to me”?

Dreyfoos means diversity, creativity, community, and passion. I can’t imagine going to high school and taking rigorous classes without having those 2 or 3 hours a day singing. Although juries brought along their own sense of stress, walking into that choir room always took a bit of the weight off my shoulders. Dreyfoos also introduced me to brilliant peers who came from all over Palm Beach County, each with their own unique talent. I have now lived in two countries where there is little diversity and I have come to understand the value it brings to a community. I am thankful I went a high school that celebrated it and people felt free to express themselves.