Brittany White compared running her blog “Siyah en Perú” to “opening a locked door” to another culture.
White, a 2012 African American studies alumna, headed to Turkey to teach English for a year after she graduated. She then spent two years volunteering as a mentor for City Year Philadelphia, a domestic version of the Peace Corps that aims to help grade school students who are at a high risk of dropping out.
White is halfway through her 27-month service trip to Peru with the Peace Corps, but she and seven other volunteers returned to the United States from Oct. 24 to Oct. 28 for the Peace Corps’ Top Bloggers Tour.
White and the other bloggers were the winners of the Peace Corps’ fourth annual Blog It Home competition, which seeks to highlight volunteers who successfully share a foreign culture with the U.S. through blogging.
“I always was super into cross-cultural exchanges, and learning about how people live in other parts of the world,” White said. “And I just always kind of wanted to live in another country or experience another culture.”
As a Youth Development volunteer in Bagua, Peru, a region with high rates of HIV transmission and teenage pregnancy, White said she focuses her attention on providing sex education to Peruvian students.
“Coming into Peace Corps I thought that I wanted to do a public health route,” White said. “So I focus a lot around sexual health education and tying that in with things like self-esteem or planning for the future.”
The winners were chosen because their blogs best helped spread “cross-cultural understanding,” according to the Peace Corps website. White said she writes both serious and light-hearted blog posts about Peruvian culture, history, social and political issues.
“I think that a lot of Peace Corps volunteers when they write a blog, they model it on like a journal entry,” White said. “They don’t necessarily hit on what is one of the national dishes of Peru, or what type of dances are in this part of the region. I think me and the other winners have really tapped into that very specific, ‘We’re going to choose to share the culture of our country’ in a very thoughtful way.”
One feature White wrote was a series called “Throwback Thursday,” in which she highlighted historical places, people, language and other cultural aspects of Peru that wouldn’t be read in a standard world history textbook, she said.
“A lot of people think of Peru and they think about the ancient Incan culture, and they think of Machu Picchu, but…there’s way more archaeological sites than Machu Picchu, there’s way more cultures than just the Incas,” White said.
“And for me to highlight that in that series of posts…was really important. Just sharing those aspects of your country that you only really know because you live there.”
The Top Bloggers Tour was made up of a series of events in Washington, D.C. Winners were invited to the White House and were asked to engage in intercultural activities.
The bloggers spoke to Michelle Obama’s Chief of Staff, Tina Tchen, about feminism in schools and the workplace, hosted a recruitment event at American University. Each blogger brought in artifacts, flags and pictures from the country they served in and talked to interested students about their experience serving abroad.
At another event, White spoke to sixth-grade Spanish classes about her service in the Peace Corps, the Spanish language and Peruvian culture.
She ran a similar blog when she was in Turkey called “Siyah in Turkey,” because “siyah” is the Turkish word for black, and her first blog focused specifically on White’s experience as a Black woman in Turkey.
“Siyah en Perú” focuses on her experience as a Black woman in Peru.
“I never really saw a lot of blogs that spoke to an African American’s experience in Peace Corps, let alone in South America,” White said.
Race wasn’t the only issue that White faced during her service. She wrote on her blog that sexism is far more present in Peru than in the U.S. Women often are denied education, become pregnant at young ages and are victims of domestic violence, she said.
“When you spend four months or a year living in another culture, you really get to learn the customs of that culture…[then] you start to see your own culture, and background, and norms from the outside for the first time,” Willever said.
White is now considering getting her master’s in public administration to “craft a career into talking about diversity and how that reaches into organizational change.”
“I think my Peace Corps experience in general has really checked my own privilege. … I am privileged as an American woman,” White said. “I had just never thought about that, and it’s very humbling to have to think about that and grapple with that.”
Alexis Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.