People might not know it, but yes, Hannah Maharrey has a spirit for adventure.
“I think I do, secretly,” she said. “I have wanderlust that nobody knows about.”
Traveling outside the country didn’t seem possible before. “Growing up, I had a single parent,” said Maharrey, who’s been as far as Hawaii. “We didn’t get to travel, but we wanted to. I never thought it was an option because of the expense.”
Now the 26-year-old is getting to see the world with the Peace Corps.
“I leave June 11 for Mongolia,” said Maharrey, a 2001 Tupelo High School graduate who grasps the enormity of the opportunity.
“Most people, we don’t encompass how big the world is. We get too bogged down in our own lives,” she said, noting there’s another non-selfish reason for traveling.
“I really wanted to put my education and skills I have to use,” said Maharrey, who earned a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism and English from the University of Mississippi. In Mongolia, “I’m going to be teaching English to high- schoolers and some adults.”
Before she can become an actual Peace Corps Volunteer, Maharrey will spend 10 weeks as a trainee with a host family for intensive language and technical training. If she doesn’t pass, she can’t stay.
“They don’t have a regular Latin alphabet like we do,” she said. “They have a Cyrillic alphabet with 36 characters. The language is extremely difficult, but it’s not impossible.”
Before she gets there – via plane rides from Tupelo to Memphis to Los Angeles to Seoul, South Korea, and then Ulaanbaatar, the capitol of Mongolia – Maharrey has been reading up on the Asian country that’s landlocked between Russia and China.
“Mongolia is almost twice the size of Texas in land mass,” she said, noting the country’s 3 million people are nomadic herdsmen. “Fifty percent of all the people live in yurts, which are temporary hut structures.”
She’s open to drinking airag, or fermented mare’s milk, but the vegetarian is going to have to get used to a different nutritional lifestyle.
“The Mongolian diet has lots of meat in it. That’s all I’m going to say,” Maharrey said with a laugh. “That’ll be tough.”
But it’s all good for the new adventurer, who knows she’ll also miss her family, including twin sister Jade, while she’s away.
“We have only been apart five days in our whole lives,” Maharrey said. “I will muddle through. The first three weeks I will cry every day, but I know it’s going to get better. You just have to readjust.”
That’s also the attitude she had about the assignment to Mongolia, which wasn’t among her top choices. When the Peace Corps asked if she’d be willing to go elsewhere, “I said ‘send me where you want to,’ which is kind of a dangerous thing,” Maharrey said.
Rooney Maharrey said her granddaughter worked for more than a year to get on with the Peace Corps. “She decided she wanted to do something different,” she said. “I’m really proud of her to have this much courage and to be that far from home.”
Carley Lovorn, who used to work at El Centro where Maharrey once taught English as a Second Language to Latinos, thinks Maharrey will do well in her new role.
“I think she’s a perfect fit for it,” said Lovorn, once a Peace Corps volunteer herself. “I spent two years in Nicaragua, about 10 years ago. Her perspective on the world is going to change drastically and for the better. She’ll be great.”
Not only will the experience teach Maharrey about her host country, but Mongolians will learn about Mississippi and the United States through her time there.
“That’s probably the most impactful part of the Peace Corps, the cultural exchange that happens,” Lovorn said, noting that the Peace Corps can be for almost anyone.
“There’s this image of a young 20-something right out of college who likes to camp and hike,” she said. “Really, it’s for people from all walks of life.”
Maharrey, who describes herself as girlie, expects to grow from the experience.
“What I want to do after the Peace Corps – pray that it happens – is go to graduate school for either journalism or political science,” she said. “I would like to work for a nonprofit, and in my wildest dreams I would like to be an ambassador.”
Contact Ginny Miller at (662) 678-1582 or email@example.com.
Ginny Miller/NEMS Daily Journal