Service Spotlight: Mr. Philen

Article by: Razel S.

Edited by: Joaquin M.

Photo by: Kaye O.

Leaving one’s home for two years and flying to a distant country with such a divergent culture from one’s own may be difficult for many. However, Mr. Philen was one of the few who were more than willing to do this to work for a cause he vouched for: the cause of teaching.

Mr. Philen cited several motivations for teaching abroad. To begin with, he stated that he had always been interested in teaching and wanted a platform to do so before entering graduate school. Adding to these desires, Mr. Philen confessed, “I loved to travel. I wanted something that was going to be challenging and service-oriented.” Furthermore, a significant person– his very own sister– also inspired him. “My sister was doing some service work for Americorps and Habitat for Humanity where she travelled to South Africa, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. I was really inspired by her motivation and drive.”

Given his interests, Mr. Philen believed that the Peace Corps was a viable avenue for his service work.

Mr. Philen’s anecdotes from his experiences in the Peace Corps truly highlighted how service forces one to undergo new and interesting experiences while at the same time developing a more global-minded perspective.

After applying to the Peace Corps, Mr. Philen was assigned to a small village in northern Namibia. He housed in a hut with a family of subsistence farmers who spoke very little English. Yet, this experience allowed him to connect with his family members particularly his Tate and Meme (mother and father in the Oshiwambo language).

A particular experience stands out to him in Namibia when looking at how the two cultures (the United States contrasted. “In the homestead, they had dogs, but they weren’t pets in the same way as in Western culture. When the neighboring family had puppies, I took one believing it would be my pet.” However, when he had gone back to Namibia after a short Christmas break, he arrived to a surprise. “One of my [foster] siblings was laughing as we were eating dinner. He then revealed that we were eating my dog.”

Surprisingly, this experience did not enrage him, but enlightened him to realize a deeper truth. “At the moment, I was not going to get upset. My [foster] siblings later told me that my dog was eating the chicken eggs, which heavily affected their livelihood. It made me realize that people live in situations where they have to make do.”

Mr. Philen believes that the fundamental lessons that he learned in the Peace Corps is still applicable to his vocation. “Though teaching is usually content-based, I like instilling in students the passion and love for service. I think at the core of what I do, I always have service on my mind and how I can still that within students.”

Even in the previous schools that Mr. Philen had taught in, he remained heavily involved in service activities. He led the Japalei initiative in his previous school in Senegal, which aimed to teach the children of the school’s custodial staff. In Beijing, he would also volunteer his time in an orphanage.  

His collective service experience allows him to look at the world from a different perspective. “I think that that’s the cool thing about service. You have the opportunity to assist or aid someone, but what you get in return is impactful as well. Just having the opportunity to work with people with a different background who live in another context, it changes the way you see the world.”

Mr. Philen believes that service is a major part of the way he works and enters his school jobs. Thus, with his immense amount of experience, surely no one can doubt the impact that he can make as a member of the service community in ISM.