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Ambassador for peace

Pilot Point woman to serve in Asia in Peace Corps

A young and unconventional altruist is gearing up to leave Pilot Point and fly a world away – off to an exhilarating new adventure in an unfamiliar land.

To 27-year-old Jessica Nordon, the impending journey is the opportunity of a lifetime.

“I’ve known I wanted to be in the Peace Corps since high school,” Nordon said. “Two years in another country; I think it’s an amazing opportunity.”

Now, Nordon’s dream is becoming a reality.

The Pilot Point resident was accepted into the Peace Corps as an English teacher in the Education Sector. She’ll leave the United States about a week after Independence Day, planning first to stop in Washington D.C. and begin training with other Peace Corps volunteers.

After that, the adventurer will jet off to Hong Kong before finally reaching her destination: Cambodia. The tiny country in Southeast Asia, nestled between Vietnam and Thailand, will serve as Nordon’s home for the next 27 months while she works with young children in third-world conditions.

“I heard in some of the places I’ll be, there may not be electricity or running water,” Nordon said. “It’s definitely going to be different. It’s a change. But those are experiences that I’m open-minded to.”

Nordon is a born humanitarian, she said, and her innate desire to serve is echoed within her entire family. Her sister works with the homeless as a social worker, and her brother is studying to become a youth minister.

“It’s in our blood,” Nordon said. “From the time we were little it was engrained in us: Help everyone.”

After earning a degree in linguistics and psychology from the University of Texas at Arlington, Nordon immediately got to work living that mantra to its fullest. Her first job out of college was at a domestic violence safehouse, working the overnight shift.

“I saw a lot of bad things,” Nordon said. “There were times women would come in with bruises and broken arms; when women would come in high on drugs. Sometimes they’d just come in underwear and a shirt because their abuser went into the shower and they took the opportunity to leave. It was a lot.”

Nordon worked at the safehouse for a year before she transferred to City House, a shelter for homeless children based in Plano. She stayed with City House for four years, always working overnight shifts so that she could balance the high-pressure job with online graduate classes.

“It was a humbling experience,” Nordon said. “And also very intense. I really did enjoy it there, but I also knew when it was time to go. I took that experience and used it to get into the Peace Corps.”

Nordon said her supervisor at City House was incredibly supportive of the transition, encouraging Nordon to “Go do the things you want to do while you’re young.”

Thus began the rigorous process of applying for one of the most well-known and highly regarded volunteer services in the world.

“It’s a very long process,” Nordon said. “It took seven months to get through everything.”

After summiting their applications, Peace Corps candidates must pass an hour-long, in-person interview to get into the program. If they pass the interview, applicants have three days to accept or deny the offer. Then, they must submit to a full background check and fingerprinting.

If the applicant passes the background check, they move on to the medical examination portion of the process. Candidates must pass a standard physical and in some cases are required to get additional specialty testing. The Peace Corps even requires a dental examination before fully approving applicants.

Nordon said she’s been told that 10% of applicants will fail the background check and 10% will fail the medical examination.

“I understand they want to make sure that they’re sending safe people and healthy people, but I didn’t think it would be that intense,” Nordon said. “It was a lot, but I didn’t mind it at all.”

After getting accepted into the Peace Corps, volunteers can apply to specific positions in specific countries, or they can fill out a general application, in which case: “[The Peace Corps] will take your background, your education, all your experience, into consideration,” she said. “Then they’ll place you somewhere they think will be a good fit.”

Nordon decided to do the latter, with Asia being her primary continent of interest. She was assigned Cambodia, a place she has never been.

“I’ve traveled a lot,” Nordon said. “But I’ve never been to Cambodia. Honestly, it was never on my to-go list. But once I got in, I was like ‘Oh, OK. Yeah. Maybe I do want to go to Cambodia.’ I think it’s going to be a really good opportunity. I’m excited I’ll be using my linguistics degree and I’ll also be helping the Cambodian children learn English, which I’m sure will be a benefit to them.”

The 12-hour time difference will be hard on Nordon and her family, she said. But, regardless of the distance, she is looking forward to getting out of her comfort zone. The volunteer said she thinks it will be good for her, and her family agrees.

“Everyone is very excited for me, but they’re also very sad,” Nordon said. “Who wants their 27-year-old daughter going to Cambodia for two years? Of course they want me here, but they know that this is important to me. They know that this is a huge opportunity for me.”

Once she returns from the adventure, Nordon’s future is still uncertain. She knows she wants to work serving those in need, ideally overseas. If she likes the Peace Corps, Nordon said, she might renew her contract and stay abroad for an extended period of time.

“I’ve always wanted to help people,” she said. “You only live once, so why not experience things like this? You have to.”

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