Byron had already completed one term of the Peace Corps and knew he wanted to serve again by the time he met Denise. Luckily, the woman who would become his wife already had her own service aspirations. Here’s a glimpse into what the Peace Corps experience was like for this Las Vegas couple as they reflect on their time in the Eastern European nation of the Ukraine.
Tell us about your background. Was travel part of your childhood?
Byron: Both of us grew up and met in Las Vegas, Nevada. My mom, Shirley, moved out to Vegas when I was almost two to raise my younger sister and me. For the most part, my mom’s family only traveled on four occasions: 1) when my grandpa relocated from Springfield, Tennessee to Fitchburg, Massachusetts for work with his family, 2) when older men in my family were in the armed forces, 3) when folks moved for work, and 4) for family reunions. That means no in my opinion. Keep in mind that international travel is fairly new for me too, but I quickly realized in high school Spanish class that someday I wanted to spend considerable stretches living and working beyond the United States.
Denise: I am the first in my family to really travel. I attended a semester abroad at Oxford College in England and have also served on mission trips to Mexico. Like Byron, though, my family doesn’t travel internationally. My family’s roots are in Oklahoma but a lot of us live between Southern California and Las Vegas, Nevada.
How did you both come to the conclusion to join the Peace Corps together?
Byron: I had such an amazing time after my first Peace Corps service in Lesotho in 2005, that I knew that I would serve again in my lifetime. My first service in sub-Saharan Africa really solidified my desire to be more aware of the world. When I met Denise she told me that she had the desire to serve in Peace Corps before we even met. After we had been married for a couple of years, we decided it was time for us to serve as a married couple. We had talked about wanting to serve in sub-Saharan Africa since we had a strong desire to live and work on the continent together. We had also discussed working and/or retiring in Botswana so we were hoping to be placed there. I presented at a Peace Corps recruitment event in 2010 or 2011. Denise was in the audience supporting me while I shared my experience of serving in Lesotho. After speaking with the Peace Corps recruiter who moderated the panel, Denise and I left that night with our minds and hearts set to begin our international journey as a married couple. Even though we weren’t assigned to an African country we accepted the option to serve in Ukraine. It was a much better experience than we thought it would be considering we initially had no desire to serve in Europe.