Do you remember growing up and watching That ’70s Show? If so, you definitely remember the main character, Eric Foreman, suddenly leaving the series to go join the Peace Corps. Many of us have heard of the Peace Corps before, but how many of us have actually considered it a viable option after graduation?
One Portland State alumni decided to go for it and joined the Peace Corps after graduating from PSU with a degree in mathematics and is now getting ready to come back to the United States happier than ever.
Max DeLashmutt is a 28-year-old Portland native and PSU graduate who has just spent the last two years volunteering in Ghana as a math teacher through Peace Corps. Besides Max’s obvious math smarts and resemblance to Bradley Cooper pre-Hangover, his close friend back home described him as being a “natural born leader with a desire to be of service to others.”
“Max genuinely cares about assisting people in their endeavors,” said Chris Arnoux, a current PSU student. “He’s also a great rapper. Max D—look him up!”
At age 26, Max was about to graduate from PSU and wasn’t sure where his next journey would begin. After doing some research on the Peace Corps and how it would aid his goals in becoming a teacher, Max applied and was soon assigned to volunteer as a math teacher in Ghana.
“The Peace Corps addressed enough of what I wanted to do at that time which was to travel, challenge myself, help other people and gain career experience,” Max said during an interview with the Vanguard. “I just decided that I’m going to do it and I’m not going to regret it because I knew it would be a really amazing experience.”
The Republic of Ghana is located along the Gulf of Guinea in the lower sub region of Africa, which is 7,278 miles away from Portland. As a math teacher, Max is actively contributing to Ghana’s highest school enrollment rates in all of Africa.
Max has posted numerous vlogs on YouTube under the username “Max FarAway,” in which he shares his experiences as a Peace Corps volunteer and introduces viewers to his students, host family, and local community members. Max has also openly invited SnapChat users to follow him at maxd1018 where he consistently snaps photos and videos of his daily encounters in the classroom that are often endearing, lively, and heartfelt.
When asked about his biggest hangups for joining Peace Corps, Max immediately recalled his hesitations around the possibility of crime. “I thought that it would inherently be more dangerous over here because I didn’t know what to expect,” Max said. “Being remote and secluded was another thing where I wasn’t sure if that was what I was looking for or if I could deal with that. As it turns out, those are both realities that you deal with in the Peace Corps. Sometimes crime happens and sometimes you’re really remote. It just depends on where you go and what kinds of situations you find yourself in.”
The Vanguard asked Max if he ever felt lonely in Ghana or feared being alone before he left the U.S. “I tend to do okay,” Max said. “I have a lot of people in my area and I keep to myself. Some people have a harder time with it, but you have opportunities to go spend time with other volunteers. You can involve yourself with different committees and working groups that allow you to travel more and work with more people.”
“I have a job and I work with other teachers that are local,” Max continued. “So you’re not alone. You’re alone in the sense that you deeply relate to other Americans though. There’s something you get from your American comradery that you don’t get with your comradery with your teachers, your friendships, or other locals in the village.”
Transitioning to a new life
When discussing his initial transition to his site in Ghana, Max recalled that his first major adjustment was in realizing how he would need to adjust the way he interacted with others and get used to a completely different set of cultural norms. “Even with something simple like talking to everyone the same way you always would, you have to shift your context a little bit because you’re in a different place with people who relate to different things,” Max said.
“I was about halfway through my service before I started realizing, “Oh, these are the things that people deeply relate with,” Max said. “It’s kind of hard to really put into words.”
Watching U.S. from afar
During the Vanguard’s interview with Max, the topic of watching the U.S. election was inevitably addressed. When Max left for his service at age 26, he recalled hearing rumors about how Donald Trump was planning on running for president without actually believing it would become a reality.
“I followed the U.S. election all the way up to election day, and I had this girl who wanted to come watch the election results live,” Max said. “She doesn’t get internet in her village and so she came to my house. Granted, that started at eleven o’clock at night and went on until about six in the morning. The whole time we were thinking, ‘We want to see it when Hillary Clinton wins and we have our first female president.’”
“I eventually went to sleep, but she couldn’t sleep because she was too angsty,” Max explained. “I was waking up every couple hours and looking at my phone. I remember waking up and it was 5:30 in the morning and looking at the map thinking, ‘Oh my god, is this real?’ and ‘Is this gap going to close?’”
Max recalled the morning when the U.S. news outlets announced Trump as the next American president. “Everyone at the school could tell that I wasn’t okay,” Max said. “There were teachers who normally would have given me slack about it, but I couldn’t stop looking at my phone. It reminded me of 9/11. It was just like, ‘Holy shit. What the fuck just happened?’”
The U.S. election wasn’t the only series of events that shocked Max from afar. “Even before the election, like with the Orlando shooting or all of the police brutality that’s happening,” Max explained. “Looking at it from abroad, there would be times where I would just be in bed crying and thinking about how fucked up shit is in our country.”
Despite Trump’s win and the recent tragedies within the U.S., Max also identified an important perspective in response to some of the comments he read from Americans back home. “People made jokes to me about when Donald Trump was elected president and they said, ‘Oh, you might want to stay in Ghana,’” Max said. “Which is just a really ignorant thing to say. To think that our problems as U.S. citizens are anywhere near the problems that people are facing here.”
“Whether it’s problems around poverty or government, I know it’s just because people really don’t know any better,” Max said. “But even with Trump as our president, we are still incredibly fortunate to be from America. I would rather live in America under Trump than in Ghana where you have problems of poverty, no infrastructure, governmental corruption, rampant sexism, gender inequality—the list goes on and on.”
Everyday life in Ghana
When asked about his every day life during his service, Max described his work days as being “7–3” and consisting of waking up early, attending school everyday, coming back home to work out and make dinner, and sometimes teaching an additional evening class.
There were some very eye-opening experiences for Max to get used to though, which ultimately allowed him to appreciate the simple luxuries that many people in the U.S. take for granted, such as easy access to water, electricity, and transportation.
Water across the water
“I have a tap in my house with running water and when it’s going well, it runs at about five in the morning about every other day and it runs for an hour,” Max said. “You would wake up and you go fill up all of your containers with water and if you happen to be awake when it’s on, you can shower or use the flush toilet. But otherwise you have to run around and fill up your containers.”
“I bathe out of a bucket everyday, so I fill up my buckets,” Max continued. “If the water isn’t running, then I have to arrange for water to be fetched from a bore hole, which is something you use to pump water out of the ground. That is something that either my students will fetch for me or I’ll take two big, yellow gallon basins and a motorcycle driver will take us to the spot to get the water.”
When asked how he acquires his drinking water when in town, Max described a different type of plastic bottle that many Americans may not be aware of. “I drink what is called ‘Pure Water,’ Max said. “It’s like a sandwich bag that is sealed off and is basically like a water balloon full of water. You just bite off the corners and drink it out of that.”
Keeping the light on
“Electricity [in Ghana] is unstable,” Max said while describing his newfound gratitude for electricity. “Oftentimes we will go 24 hours without electricity and you’re just sweating and hoping that the electricity will come back on. And there’s this moment after the electricity comes back on—you hear your fan start, and your fridge turns back on. It’s just the best feeling in the world. It’s like you’ve never been more excited to just have electricity and a light on in your house.”
Getting around on the “Tro-Tro”
“Transportation is pretty inconvenient,” Max said with a knowing sarcasm. “The way that it’s set up is, in almost all parts of Africa, they have a bus or large van which we call a ‘Tro-Tro.’”
“Let’s say I’m in one town and I’m trying to get to another town that’s maybe four hours away,” Max explained. “You find the car that is going to your destination and you buy a ticket, put your bag down and wait for other people to purchase their own seat. Once all the tickets for every seat have been purchased, then the car moves and you leave for the destination all together. The thing with that though, is sometimes it takes four hours for the car to fill up or sometimes the car doesn’t fill up at all and you don’t get to travel that day. Normally your car is going to fill and you just have to wait it out.”
“If I’m going to the capital I will take a Tro-Tro,” Max said. “And then an hour and a half down the road, you reach the water where you have to take either a ferry or a small-engine boat, where you feel like it’s going to sink every time but you always make it and it putters across the river.”
Max described these instances with a humorous stance but also noted how his daily interactions with his Peace Corps community, host family, and classroom have made his experience memorable, fun and rewarding. “I have a really awesome relationship with my students,” Max said. “I really love working with kids and teaching, which is what I want to do. I want to be a role model to kids who don’t have one.”
Beginning in the Spring of 2017, Max published a series of student biographies on his Facebook page that described his experience and admiration for his students. Max introduced students such as John, Favour, Eric, Sumaila, and Princella using the hashtag #StudentsOfGhana.”
When Max asked his student Eric Nayram, “What would you like America to know about Ghana?” Eric said, “I want them to know that we are not dirty, and we are friendly.” Eric is a Form 1 Student at Atakora Junior High School.
In addition to teaching math and student leadership activities, Max was also recently involved in the 2017 Students Taking Action Reaching for Success Conference, which consists of a week long, engaging and interactive leadership conference for senior or junior high school girls in Ghana in order to empower them to become future leaders.
This year’s event was called “Let Girls Learn” and enabled 60 female students to travel to a major city in order to tour universities, attend a college fair, and develop skills for continuing their education and professional futures. Max was among eight other volunteers who posted a video on Facebook in order to raise money for the event. “They will remember the event for the rest of their lives,” Max said in the video.
Max is scheduled to return home to Portland this August and plans to visit family, friends, and travel on vacation before leaving again in January 2018 to teach abroad in another foreign country.
Students who are interested in learning more about the Peace Corps can visit the organization’s website at peacecorps.gov.