Ellie Wellborn: Seeking Peace
By: Celeste Powell
International language major Ellenette (Ellie) Welborn lived in four countries by the age of 22 and speaks the languages of three—Spanish, Indonesian and English.
On a busy week Ellie’s room shows lose scrap papers, open notebooks on the floor, socks with no match.
But on a relaxing week, she places elephant statues prominently, travel mementos on a memo board along with maps and photos of friends.
Years before and over 9,000 miles away in Jakarta, Indonesia, Ellie was unable to decorate her room, leaving it to her step-mother.
“Pink—everywhere,” she said. “It looked like a newborn baby’s room. Pink table, pink rug … Pink!”
Ellie was eight when she moved to Indonesia. Although knowing three languages can be a blessing, it can also be difficult for her.
The uhs, ums and wild hand movements, the look of annoyance on her face show the sometimes frustrating nature of being trilingual.
One of Ellie’s mentors and Director of Student Development at Cameron University Dr. Pruchnicki, believes that the rare downsides to knowing three languages can still benefit Ellie.
“Ellie may be quiet,” she said. “She may not say as much, but when she does say things people listen. She says things that are important.”
The difficulty to elaborate in a single language is only a slight drawback for Ellie.
If Ellie gains what she considers a once in a lifetime experience of joining the Peace Corps, she will teach young children who struggle with language, not unlike her, as a child.
The Peace Corps mission is to promote world peace and friendships by fulfilling three goals:
1.To help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women
2.To help promote better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served
3.To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans
The Peace Corps also has core expectations for volunteers, stating on their website they must “represent responsibly the people, cultures, values, and traditions of your host country.”
With Ellie having lived in Indonesia before, Pruchnicki believes Ellie already embodies this Peace Corps expectation.
When Ellie thinks back to her time in Indonesia as a child, she considers it pleasant despite the obstacles she had to overcome in moving to a country she’d never heard off in a house with a step-mom she’d never met.
Before moving to Indonesia with her father and stepmother, Ellie lived with her grandmother in Argentina. There, she was the only child.
“The first month that I moved to Indonesia,” she said. “My dad went on a work trip and was gone for a whole month. He left me with my new family that I just met. I was a troublemaker—mainly because I didn’t know the rules.”
Ellie unwillingly respected the authority of her stepmother when first moving to Indonesia as an adolescent.
In Argentina, with her grandmother, there were imaginary friends to race on her bike in the countryside. In Indonesia, there were strict rules of no playing outside because of the potentially dangerous nature of the city and no sleepovers with friends.
But also in Indonesia, there were personal drivers and live-in maids who swept, mopped, cleaned laundry and cooked food.
As a child, Ellie didn’t consider herself particularly religious, but Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world with approximately 225 million Muslims.
She said she’d prayed in times of hardships, but never claimed a specific religion.
“In the past, I prayed to God,” she said. “I didn’t necessarily consider myself Catholic or Christian. I just prayed to God. In my head, I still prayed to the same God [with her Muslim family], I just did it a little differently.”
After four years living in Indonesia where hijabs were the norm, Ellie moved to Oklahoma where bedazzled jeans and cowboy boots were in fashion.
“I remember the first couple of weeks I moved to Duncan,” she said. “These popular girls thought it was so cool I came from the jungle. There are jungles in Indonesia, but I lived in one of the world’s biggest cities where there’s more traffic than trees. So, if you consider giant buildings a jungle, then I guess I did.”
At this point in her life, with graduation a few months away, she faced a single interview that could determine her future.
In January, Ellie completed her application to teach abroad with the Peace Corps. A day after being rejected for a position in the Dominican Republic, Ellie received confirmation for an interview for a position in a country she’s already been—Indonesia.
During the interview Ellie was asked by a Peace Corps Placement Specialist about past and current experiences and skills such as teaching, tutoring and mentoring others.
Pruchnicki believed the position was destined for Ellie.
“Ellie prepared herself for her interview,” she said, “it was all Ellie. We were just there giving her encouragement and tips along the way.
“Ellie [will] got hired because Ellie’s awesome. She had all the skills and experience and passion they were looking for.”
And so, the waiting began … Months of preparation and practice boiled down to a 90-minute interview.
Initially, Ellie would know within two months if she was accepted. But a day later Ellie received her acceptance letter to serve as an English Teacher and Teacher Trainer in Indonesia.
“With Ellie, her actions speak as well,” Pruchnicki said. “If you looked at everything she’s involved in and the things she’s passionate about, they totally aligned with the mission of the peace corps. It was such a perfect fit.”
Seven months from now, Ellie will fly 38 hours to Indonesia with a few suitcases containing all her clothes, photos and hopefully matching socks.
For two years, she will stay in one of the most densely populated areas in the world—the island of Java. There, she will live with a host family, most likely in a traditional Javanese house.
Even though volunteers will be living in rural areas, the Peace Corps website states that there may still be large populations of people.
Pruchnicki believes that despite Ellie’s nervousness, she is prepared.
“Whatever Ellie’s expectations are,” she said, “nothing is going to prepare her for what actually happens, but she has the skills to adapt to whatever gets thrown her way.”
Ellie is prepared for the next chapter of her life and believes that living abroad has helped prepare her.
“I’ve lived in different countries,” she said. “But, I don’t have a favorite. I loved living in all three. They each brought new perspectives to me.”
Pruchnicki said she knows Ellie will go on to do great things with the Peace Corps.
“I don’t think we’ll just see a change in Ellie,” she said. “I think we’ll see a change in where been she’s assigned and see a positive impact there.”