South Walton grad joins the Peace Corps

Savannah Vasquez
South Walton and Gator grad, Cassidy Whitson is headed to Zambia for a two-year Peace Corps tour.

At the age of 21, Cassidy Whitson is ready for a “real” adventure. The 2012 South Walton graduate and newly minted University of Florida Journalism graduate is not heading toward her career just yet, but instead has decided to take two years off to join the Peace Corps.

“When I came to college, I had no idea what it was, but my freshman year I became good friends with the resident assistant who had gone through the Peace Corps and thought it was definitely something I wanted to do,” Whitson said of the inspiration for her decision. “I thought using that power of communi-cating effectively would be a great thing to do for two years before I started a career.”

Whitson, who grew up in Crestview and South Walton, has traveled out of country before to Mexico, and some islands in the Caribbean, France and Great Britain, but said when it came to the Peace Corps, she was open to go anywhere.

“I put my first choice as Eastern Europe, my second as Mongolia, and for my third choice I chose the ‘I’ll go anywhere’ option,” she said.

When she was given her assignment, Whitson said she was surprised to discover she had been chosen to go to Zambia, Africa.

“I’ve never been to Africa so I am excited for this experience,” she said. “I’m most excited about learning things about the culture in Zambia and experience daily life in Zambia.”

While in Zambia, Whitson will be joining a group of 60 to 70 other Peace Corps volunteers who will be scattered throughout the country to teach English, and help with humanitarian projects within the area.

“I will be teaching English to sixth- to eighth-grade students as well as participating in side projects, such as women’s empowerment, and HIV education and protection,” she said.

Before heading out to her assigned village, Whitson will spend three months in intensive training in Zambia’s capitol city of Lusaka. She will live with a host family and learn the language, culture and security measures she will need to survive while in the country.

When asked what he thought of her adventurous plans, Cassidy’s father, Jeff Whitson, said he was surprised and nervous at first, but now he is just full of pride for his daughter.

“Her mother and I are very proud,” he said. “This is something she decided to do on her own, she took a step to go do something bigger than herself … it will be a life-changing experience, for sure.”

As for Whitson, she hopes to embrace this cultural experience and come away a better person.

“After two years in the country it will really become a home and I hope to integrate into the community and make friends,” she said. “The cultural corre-spondence will also be really beneficial for me and the people I meet in Zambia. It will be a challenge not having the comforts of western life, but that’s what I am excited for.”

Whitson will head to Zambia on June 6 with a tentative return date in August 2018.