Issaquah grad heads to Cambodia with the Peace Corps

Original Story

Scan through any English dictionary, or take the modern route and type it into Google, and the definition of idealism is along these lines: “the attitude of a person who believes that it is possible to live according to very high standards of behavior and honesty.”

Described mainly as a theory, idealism in practice is far easier said than done. But some people find it easier than others. Take Chelsea Stone, 23, for example.

After graduating from Gonzaga University in Spokane in 2012 with a degree in biology, the 2009 graduate of Issaquah High School continued her education at Drexel University in Philadelphia, receiving her master’s degree in public health, with specialties in biostatistics and epidemiology.

A lot of big words and hard work, but how does that make her an idealist?

Stone left July 10 for the Southeast Asian nation of Cambodia, where she was chosen to volunteer with the Peace Corps.

“I have known that I wanted to join the Peace Corps since I was about 16,” she said. “I wasn’t really sure when, but once I got into a master’s program, I knew that Peace Corps would be my next step.”

Stone’s first taste of volunteering came when her parents brought her to the Union Gospel Mission in downtown Seattle as a 14-year-old, and she continued through her college years by volunteering at hospitals in North Philadelphia and youth shelters in Spokane. But it was last summer when she began helping others outside of the U.S.

For her master’s thesis, Stone spent five weeks in Croix-des-Bouquets, Haiti, where she taught English and volunteered with the local community by gathering information about pediatric asthma through surveys and questionnaires.

Jan Meriwether, a former Issaquah resident and Peace Corps member who spent time in Liberia, West Africa, from 1982-83 volunteering in the Health Department, knows the importance of the Peace Corps.

“I’m idealistic and I wanted to make a difference,” Meriwether said. “There is so much need in the world, and serving in the Peace Corps changed my whole view and has made me eternally grateful for the opportunities, liberties and lifestyle we have as Americans.”

While Stone will teach English again in Cambodia, she also hopes to work with community health programs using her knowledge of epidemiology — the study of how disease conditions and health behaviors are transferred — and biostatistics, which statistically model issues pertinent to disease control.

“Projects need to be dictated and decided upon by the community, so that they are more successful long term,” Stone said. “I just hope that I can contribute to Cambodians the way that I already know the Cambodians will contribute to me.”

An experienced traveler of Europe during her college days, Stone said she is looking forward to a change of pace.

“I am most excited to not live in Western society, in all honesty,” she said. “I always get the questions, ‘What about your hair, or shopping, or taking showers or even having fun?’”

“I normally respond with, ‘I am going to do what the Cambodians do for fun and shower where they shower and live the life they live.’”

Stone credits her upbringing in Issaquah with her desire to give to those who are less fortunate. After the Peace Corps, she also plans to pursue a doctorate in epidemiology.

“Growing up in Issaquah, I never knew other people didn’t live like this,” Stone said. “I realize education should be spread and not confined to those who can afford it. I need to go and share what I have been so lucky to even receive.”

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