Sullivan South graduate heading to Nepal to serve in Peace Corps

Holly Viers • Jan 30, 2019 at 8:55 AM

KINGSPORT — Since graduating from Sullivan South High School in 2012, Kingsport native Lauren Stuart has been on no shortage of adventures.

She will embark on her latest journey later this week when she heads to Nepal for a 27-month service in the Peace Corps, a U.S. government-run volunteer program with a focus on improving developing communities around the world.

Using her educational background in meteorology, geography and climate change, Stuart will assist her assigned community with various agricultural projects.

Finding her passion

Following her graduation from Sullivan South, Stuart followed in her family members’ footsteps by enrolling at Florida State University. As part of a special program offered at the university, she spent her freshman year studying abroad in Spain and Panama, which granted her in-state tuition.

She earned bachelor’s degrees in geography and meteorology in 2016, pursuing a passion she had from a young age.

“I had wanted to be a meteorologist since I was maybe 4 years old,” Stuart said. “My whole life, I just knew I was going to be a meteorologist.”

From there, Stuart completed her master’s degree in climate change and international development in 2018 at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England. As part of her degree, she returned to Panama for research and then moved to Germany for six months for an internship with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Most recently, Stuart returned last month from a six-month internship in South Korea, during which she also visited Tokyo, Japan.

Joining the Peace Corps

Stuart credits her desire to join the Peace Corps to her study abroad experience in Panama, which opened her eyes to the struggles that people in developing countries endure.

“When I was in Panama, it was really the first time in my life I had witnessed poverty and inequality and the harsh realities of the developing world. I also saw firsthand the impacts that weather and climate had on the well-being of people there,” Stuart said. “I think it’s easy for us as Americans, we’re very privileged … but in developing countries, you don’t have those luxuries, and so the impact that something like temperature and precipitation has on them, it can destroy their crops, it can cause them to be food insecure. There are so many implications that we just don’t think about here.”

Stuart said the Peace Corps “fits in perfectly” with her career goals to use science and meteorology to help people live better lives. Though she didn’t originally apply to serve in Nepal, she said the location ended up being a perfect match for her.

“The more I looked into it, the more I realized this is exactly the type of work I want to do,” Stuart said. “I want to work in the field. I want to be in the country, on the ground, working with the locals on implementing projects.”

Helping a community

Stuart will leave this Thursday for Los Angeles, where she will meet her fellow Peace Corps volunteers for the first time. From there, they will travel together to Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal. At that point, the group will immediately start a three-month training process.

Once they complete training, which includes learning the native language, the group will swear in as volunteers and travel to their permanent sites. From there, Stuart said she’ll complete a three-month “integration period,” meeting everyone in her community and building relationships, before she begins working.

Though she isn’t sure exactly what projects she’ll be working on, Stuart knows they will involve improving food security and nutrition in her community.

Making an impact

In addition to making an impact on those living in her assigned community, Stuart expects her time in the Peace Corps to have a lasting impact on her own life.

“It’s going to be conditions that I’m not used to, and I think that’s going to challenge me in a lot of ways,” Stuart said, “but I’m really excited, I think more than anything, to just build relationships with people, with my fellow volunteers but also with my host families and the community that I get to serve.”