Potsdam man returns after spending two years in Africa with Peace Corps
Sunday, September 30, 2012 - 5:25 pm


POTSDAM – A 25-year-old Potsdam man recently returned from a two-year Peace Corps mission in West Africa, where he educated a small village on a variety of health topics and assisted medical providers.

Nathan Cornett, a 2006 Potsdam High School graduate and 2010 SUNY Brockport graduate,said he joined the Peace Corps as an enthusiastic boy, but returned from West Africa a more enlightened man.

“It was an awesome growing experience. I have been in Potsdam most of my life and I wanted an adventure. It was an adventure,” he said.

Cornett said he stepped off the plane in West Africa excited and ready to immerse himself in the culture of his village, but soon realities of the situation began to settle in.

As Cornett began his three-month Peace Corps training, which taught him how to stay healthy as he adjusted to a new climate and diet, he became ill.

“I was sick for the first three months I was there,” he said.

Following the training, which included a crash-course in French, Cornett was sent to the small village of Burkina Faso.

“I think that is when it hits you. You don’t know what to expect and you are so excited and then you get to this village where you don’t know the language, you don’t know anyone there and there is no cell reception and it’s like holy S___, I’m all alone,” he said. “That takes some time to get used too.”

While the initial shock was temporary, Cornett said there was a long adjustment period as his body learned to function on fewer calories and less protein.

“The food was one of the hardest things to get used to. I ate leaves that were boiled into sauces and a lot of beans, meat was very hard to come by,” he said. “Their food isn’t nearly as rich as what we are used too.”

As Cornett’s body adjusted drastic changes, his mind was busy picking up the local languages of French and Moore.

Despite studying French for nearly 150 hours in his three-months of training, Cornett said he didn’t begin to pick up the language until he was immersed in it.

“When I arrived I tested in at novice low when I left I tested as advanced low,” he said.

While Cornett was in Burkina Faso, he worked to educated the public on health issues ranging from AIDS awareness to Malaria prevention. He also spent time educating children and helping the two local healthcare providers, which consisted of two nurses.

“The nurses there did a lot more than what they do here. They administered shots and medicine and provided health care to the village of 2,000 people,” he said.

Cornett said nothing could prepare him for the experience and that his pre-determined thoughts of an extremely impoverished village were not exactly accurate.

“These people don’t have a lot and when you think about areas like this you think about people starving covered in dirt, but the people there were amazing, they were happy and they really appreciate things more,” he said.

After two years in the village, which was located 18 miles from the nearest paved road, Cornett said he had grown very accustomed to the life style, but his longing to see his family made him anxious to get home. But, Cornett said his arrival back in the states was similar to his arrival in Burkina Faso.

“You can’t wait to get back, but once you settle in there are a lot of adjustments. You realize how much we have here and how much is wasted,” he said.

Cornett said his time in the Peace Corps was life changing and was easily the biggest adventure he has experienced in his life.

“The great thing about the Peace Corps is they give you everything you need in training and then you use those skills to help other people and take care of yourself,” he said. “If you want to go on the adventure of a lifetime, I would recommend it,” he said.