In Winter 2018, I was invited to cover the Monmouth University Peace Corps Program by friend and MU professor, Frank Cipriani.
The Jersey Shore is going to Mongolia!
No, not the group of infamous orange television “Bennies” whose reign of fame many locals can’t wait to fade like a winter tan, but a care package of tangible local “artifacts” collected by Monmouth University Peace Corps Prep Program students that will open the cultural doors and, they hope, minds to what we live, love and do for fun here.
“You can’t send a bagel, you can’t really send a pork roll; you have to find something that represents it,” said MU Peace Corps Volunteer Preparatory Program Prof. Frank D. Cipriani, whose daughter, Emma, is currently serving as a teacher in the federal program where the package will be sent. “Things that people at a school in Mongolia, kids would want to play with or want to touch.”
The result was what he said became a “mosaic that could only be the Jersey Shore. Some of the students went to the beach and collected artifacts, some went along the boardwalk and got salt water taffy, some got sports stuff.”
A number of the students in the Peace Corps Prep Program, who come from as far away as Germany, had to first discover what the Jersey Shore was for themselves.
The resulting collection was on display late last week during a Peace Corps Film Festival held in Wilson Hall on the West Long Branch campus, and included a Jersey Devils play hockey stick and puck, Giants football, Horseshoe crab shell, skateboard with photos taken of the Forth Union Asbury Park skate spot within the Carousel building there, postcards, shells, an empty box of Taylor ham/pork roll and photos of the finished product, Wiffel ball bat and ball, flip flops and more. All items will be sent with note cards written by participating students to help Mongolian students understand their use and importance here.
Mayo Paco, a sophomore serving as ambassador or the university prep program and enrolled in communications and environmental studies, noted that the Mongolian students are “not going to know the culture the way we know and are familiar with it, but now they’re going to have some kind of way to see that there’s a different culture, like totally odd and different from what they’re used to.”
“My daughter is seen as an American and, whatever that means. Hollywood?” continued Prof. Cipriani. “We wanted to show that there’s this little tiny place of Mongolia that’s maybe different from the rest of Mongolia, and there’s this little tiny place of the United States that’s the Jersey Shore, that [their] Peace Corps volunteer is from, and they’re actually going to see what we do for fun, and play with the things and eat the salt water taffy.”
He added that Mongolia is “pretty much as far from an ocean as you can get.”
Having visited himself during Thanksgiving last year, the professor said that his daughter’s students already liked some of the concepts they were introduced to from our collective culture, including “the trivial things. They learned how to play capture the flag, and they really loved it. They haven’t played a serious game of capture the flag since about the 12th century, and then they were really good at it. There’s no Frisbees; like, no one has ever thrown a Frisbee. My daughter was really excited that we would send a Wiffel ball and bat – things like that. The concept is so alien, of any sort of shore, or shell, or putting a shell to your ear and listening to the ocean.”
“I think it’s going to be amazing,” said Ms. Paco. “We skateboard; I don’t know if they skateboard. I kind of want them to send something back so we can see what they do.”
The Monmouth University Peace Corps Prep Program is the only such program at any university in New Jersey. It was established in 2016 by Dr. Nancy J. Mezey, a returned Peace Corps volunteer who served in Mali, West Africa, and wished to bring such a preparatory program to Monmouth that would join over 60 others nationwide in certifying students for the federal service program.
Prof. Cipriani said that students who enter the prep program don’t have to enter the Peace Corps, and added that acceptance to the federal service program is competitive and not guaranteed, but that most of the general education classes – particularly health and education – were included in the certification, which gave students interested in the national program “a huge leg up.”
Monmouth University program participants also serve the shore area, from working in local prisons, to helping needy kids, to planting trees and engaging in positive agricultural and environmental projects that can benefit other aspects of students’ chosen majors.
“Maya, for instance, her idea is to become like Jacques Costeau, so we went to the seal watch last weekend at the Littoral Society at Sandy Hook and saw the seals,” stated Prof. Cipriani. “The Littoral Society said, ‘Hey – we need somebody to film our fish tagging, so people know how to fish tag,’ and when Maya does that, that is actually going to give her some credit [with the university].”
For more information about the Monmouth University Peace Corps Volunteer Preparatory Program, visit www.monmouth.edu/peacecorps.