Each day the program began at 8:30 a.m. and ended at 7:30 p.m. with very few breaks in-between. I was one of only three freshmen out of the 30 people who participated in the summit. The main focus of the week was to prepare a business pitch with a team of two other students to share at the end of the program. Each team was assigned a mentor to help them develop the pitch and we were lucky to have Paul Vogel, founder and CEO of Vogel Communications in Oregon, as our mentor. It was an amazing experience working with him and learning from him. Paul emphasized the value of teamwork, and it had a deep impact on our final product.
My group and I decided to pitch the idea of forming a travel company in Rwanda whose main aim would be to tap into the domestic market that is still largely unexploited. My role was to conduct research and to connect with various people I knew in the Rwanda tourism business in order to understand the risks that would be involved if we decided to carry out our business ideas. Working on this project was challenging because we had a short period of time to narrow down a lot of ideas from mentors in order to find what would work with our specific business model.
While my group didn’t win the pitch competition, I had an amazing time working with my teammates and we even won “TheOnionChallenge.” The Onion challenge was about coming up with a funny satirical caption describing Lewis and Clark students. Our caption talked about our student body's obsession with astrological signs. We won campus swag as prizes.
I learned a lot of valuable skills through this experience. One that stood out the most was learning more about conditions under which businesses should expand. This was very special to me because I’ve been thinking of ways on how to expand my mom’s business to bring in more women and create employment opportunities. I can't wait to take these lessons and apply them at home in Rwanda. Winterim was a once in a lifetime opportunity that I wouldn’t miss a chance at participating in again.
SHE-CAN: How did you hear about SHE-CAN?
Peggy: My friend Julie Abrams invited me to a SHE-CAN event last summer where several scholars spoke about their experiences. I was wowed by the young women and by Barb’s vision for the organization. At one point Barb put me in front of LeeAnn Bissell and said, “She’s going to Cambodia. You should come!” LeeAnn was probably just being polite when she said, “You should!” But I said yes on the spot. A few people have since placed me by saying, “Oh, you’re the woman who said yes!” I think that’s a good way to be known.
SHE-CAN: Why did you want to join the recruitment trip to Phnom Penh? Had you ever been to Cambodia before this year?
Peggy: I had never been to Cambodia and knew that seeing the recruitment process up close would deepen my understanding of SHE-CAN. And in a selfish sense, I knew that this would be a purposeful trip and not at all touristy—which is the way I like to travel.
SHE-CAN: What was it like to be a part of the interview process? How would you describe the Cambodian candidates you interviewed?
Peggy: Our interviews took place in teams over a couple of days as we winnowed down candidates. I paired up with Madison and we asked a series of screening questions, some personal and some hypothetical; then we invited groups of 6-7 to a café for more informal chats, to see how the girls interacted with one another. We were looking for facility with English, commitment to something greater than themselves, and a willingness to think differently. Even the girls we didn’t end up choosing impressed me. They were so sincere and serious about their educations and their dreams for their country as well as themselves.
SHE-CAN: Can you describe what it was like to bond with our 2018 scholarship winners (Mouy An, Nich Vunn, Chamnan Suon, Rosie Ith & Sinet Kroch)?
Peggy: I fell in love with those girls. We spent a weekend at a resort in Kampot with them and that was really special—they had all gotten into their chosen colleges and were so relaxed and happy. We had an enormous feast of crab and shrimp on the beach at Rabbit Island—those girls can eat! And we had a lot of conversations about what they should expect in America. Mostly they seem worried about access to fish sauce.
SHE-CAN: Can you share any fun or memorable stories from your trip?
Peggy: On our first night in Phnom Penh we had a party for the girls and their parents on a riverboat on the Mekong. Most of the parents didn’t speak English, but they didn’t need to – their pride in their daughters and their gratitude to SHE-CAN was obvious. Each of the girls gave a little speech thanking their parents for the sacrifices they had made to get them to this juncture. Everybody cried. I now feel a very personal sense of responsibility to the parents to make sure their girls are supported and loved while they’re here.
I’m thankful I didn’t have to go through this transition by myself. I was welcomed by a great mentor team including: Donna Fleetwood, Sarah Noorbaksh, Katherine McFarland, Alice Bedard-Voorhees and Melanie Walderon. They helped make my transition to college smooth and I never feel alone because I know I have a great support system. I’m lucky to have a mentor team only a few miles away from my school. Many of my mentors live in Mechanicsburg or Carlisle which are roughly 30 miles from my campus.
Sometimes on the weekends my mentors come to visit me on campus and we share a meal or I spend time at their homes. I always look forward to spending time with them because I consider them my family away from home. Staying with them is always fun. I get to try different activities that are a part of American culture. One of my favorite activities is riding a horse. My mentor Donna Fleetwood owns a horse named River. I’ll always remember my first time sitting on River’s back. I was worried because I remember thinking to myself what if he doesn’t like me and throws me off like the horses I had watched at a rodeo show a few days earlier. Luckily, that didn’t happen and I had a great first horseback riding experience!
Besides my mentors, my SHE-CAN sisterhood has helped make my college transition smooth. When I got to campus, I couldn’t wait to meet my SHE-CAN sister Vuochnear Ly. She helped by familiarizing me with all the resources I can utilize on campus to be successful. She’s helped me learn how to get books at a cheap cost, showed me the best studying corners and suggested good clubs to join. She helped me with all the things that normally take freshmen students a long time to realize. I always thank her for being a role model. When I arrived on campus she had already created a good name for SHE-CAN and that inspired me to work hard like her and be involved like she is.
During my first semester, stepping out of my comfort zone helped me realize the most amazing experiences and opportunities. I pushed myself beyond what I thought I couldn’t do and started realizing what I’m most passionate about.
Currently, I’m in the Gettysburg College Leadership Certificate yearlong program. I have a leadership coach at school and we have leadership trainings every month that help me personally and professionally. During my first semester in the program, I gained a deep understanding about who I am and how I want to be perceived in the world. The program has been a good opportunity to network with like-minded professionals. Additionally, I’m involved in a variety of clubs such as the International Club, where I’m club treasure, and the Gettysburg African Student Association. My favorite activity in the association is discussing African politics and learning about the experiences of other African students on campus. I joined these organizations as a way to strengthen and practice my leadership skills.
My first semester of college was a great experience, and I’ve grown so much as a person. It’s still unbelievable how much I’ve learned in the five months I’ve been here. I’m happy to be back for my second semester, and I look forward to learning more, getting involved more and excelling in my studies and in the leadership roles I pursue.
Read stories written by our talented scholars and multiple voices across the SHE-CAN network