Eliot Friesen

A Peace Corps Volunteer Studying for the GRE in Togo, West Africa (People of Magoosh)

Colette was invited to write this post as part of our People of Magoosh series, where students tell their incredible stories in order to encourage others to keep pressing on toward their goals. If you’d like to submit your own story, send an email to [email protected]. We look forward to hearing from you!


IMG_9519My name is Colette Van Dyke and I am a Peace Corps volunteer in my second year in Togo, West Africa. I grew up in San Juan Capistrano, California and went to school at the University of California, Los Angeles. After college, I stayed in Los Angeles and worked at a law firm for a year. It was during that first year out of college that I realized how trapped and out of place I felt. I wasn’t so sure that law school and the “law track” were for me anymore. I was taking all the steps to become a lawyer, but deep down I knew something was off — I knew this wasn’t the path for me. I was suffocating amidst all the monotony of a corporate structure, and I needed to get out. I decided to take a leap and pursue what had been a goal in my life ever since my childhood: to become a Peace Corps volunteer and completely immerse myself in a foreign and life-altering experience.

My Story

When I was a child, my parents would drop my sisters and me off at our grandmother’s house over summer vacation. It was during those warm months that I was able to escape into a world of large colored maps that extended for miles, and encyclopedias with information and pictures on anything from the inner workings of a sail ship to the physiology of a gazelle. IMG_1689It was during these magical moments that I was able to let my mind wander and explore any part of the world all from the comforts of my grandmother’s library. I was an adventurer, an explorer, and I would run around the house taking on different characters and traveling through various parts of the world. One day, I ran in to a set of strange, exotic wooden necklaces and bracelets tucked away in a shoebox. I came to learn that these were pieces of West Africa my grandmother brought back with her when she was a Peace Corps volunteer in Niger. She would recount stories of how she helped build a school for the blind, and how she taught English to a classroom of 50+ Nigerian students outside amidst the cotton fields. It was her benevolent and adventurous spirit that planted a seed in my head that maybe I, too, could one day help out individuals who I might have nothing in common with except for our humanity.

All of these memories came back to me as I sat in my law office job robotically typing away on my computer. I wondered what the 10-year old version of myself would say if they could see me now. I decided to put a stop to it all. I decided to satisfy my relentless spirit and become a Peace Corps volunteer. Today, I proudly represent the United States of America through my service in a village called Lavié on the southwest border of Togo, just bordering Ghana. I am working on improving the water quality and sanitation of their water system and collaborating with a local farmer’s group on food security issues so that community members can access nutritious foods all year round. I would like to build off of my Peace Corps experience by entering a graduate study program in International Relations when my time here is over.

IMG_1869With Magoosh, I am able to study at my own pace and follow the study plan day by day, wherever I may have a strong internet connection. When I am in my village, I typically set aside a block of 2 hours in the morning to complete my lessons and practice problems for the day. While this involves hiking up a mountain, I think I can argue that I have the best and most peaceful study spot in the world.

I love how Magoosh emphasizes self-study and improvement through self-awareness. In other words, knowing yourself and gauging where you are weakest and targeting those areas. I think this theme generally applies to life as well. IMG_9651The ability to evaluate where you are going right or wrong in your life, without the noise of other’s opinions, can make all the difference. By opting out of my busy and socially connected world in America, I have found the clarity and direction I want to go with my life, and I know this is just the start of many adventures to come. Although studying for the GRE in a developing country comes with its own set of challenges, the fulfillment and gratification from this experience have all been absolutely worth it.