By Nicole Hennessy
After signing up for the Peace Corps, Westlake graduate Anooj Bhandari wondered where he’d be stationed.
Anticipating an assignment somewhere in Eastern Europe, he ended up preparing for two years in Morocco, for which he’ll leave in a few weeks.
“I was really excited,” he said. “I’ve never been to Morocco before, so I’m sure it will be an
Recently graduated from The Ohio State University, Bhandari minored in theater with a focus on social justice, an area of study he’ll be able to integrate in his work, which will mainly consist of youth leadership and lifestyle development.
Planning this transition from college to the Peace Corps for “about seven or eight years and counting,” he said he’s always seen it as an opportunity to expand upon his comfort zone.
Also, he said, “there’s a lot of (the) notion, with living in the suburbs, that people cycle back to it, but I really enjoy the idea of being able to expand people’s perception and my own perception of community. For me, it’s challenging myself to make my community a global one.”
For the first three months of his service, Bhandari will live with a host family to learn the local language and integrate into its culture.
Currently, 290 Ohioans serve in the Peace Corps, which was established in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy.
In Morocco, in particular, 215 volunteers currently work in positions similar to Bhandari’s assignment.
Well-spoken and an admitted perfectionist in terms of communications and letter writing, he said he’s anticipating some of his biggest challenges to be related to learning a new language and being forced to let go of complete accuracy in his interactions.
Instead, he said, he’ll accept the adventure and take in Morocco’s atmosphere as vigorously as possible.
“There’s a really unique culture in Morocco, with 99 percent of the country being Islamic,” he continued. From Ramadan celebrations to scheduled prayer and the conservatism of northern African culture, in general, these experiences will be completely different from anything he’s used to or has experienced in the past.
“And I’m really excited to, just, be able to live that.”
Already exploring what he’d like to do once his service is over, Bhandari is considering a career in employment development for people facing employment barriers, including homeless populations or ex-offenders. Again, using his minor, he hopes to utilize the arts to teach these and other populations life skill development.
An ambitious 22-year-old, he said this is something that was ingrained in him at an early age, though he sees his ambitions as different from those of others.
And, he said, “A lot of this sprouts from – I know this sounds crazy, but – being in fourth-grade student council.”
An experience that made a larger impact on him than most students his age, Bhandari sees this as the “kickstart” of his ambitious thinking.
Taking the next few weeks to pack and spend time with friends and family, he said, ultimately, “I’m really excited to represent Cleveland, Ohio, in this way.”