A whole new challenge

LIHUE – Carly Matsumoto stumbled across the game of lacrosse when she was a freshman at the University of San Diego.

She was watching the team play outside her dorm room and knew nothing about the sport, but thought it would be fun to give it a try.

With her usual curiosity for new adventures combined with hard work and fierce determination, the 2010 Kauai High School graduate went on to lead her team to the Division 1 playoffs as well as earn second team All American honors as a goalie.

Even though the 22-year-old graduated from USD with a marketing degree in May, she isn’t done with the sport completely.

“My coach said I should start up a little league of my own over there,” Matsumoto said with a laugh about spreading the sport in Cameroon, the country she’s been assigned to as a member of the Peace Corps.

But it was more than sports that spurred Matsumoto to embark on her new adventure that starts in early September. It was a chance to help people in an African country that struggles to provide its population with living essentials that some Americans take for granted.

“I can help with things like food security and marketing their products,” Matsumoto said.

Her preference was to serve in Thailand because of her Asian heritage, and the offer to move to Cameroon originally caught her off guard.

“I didn’t know where it was,” she said of the country that shares a border with Nigeria and rests on the Gulf of Guinea and where she’ll live for two years. “I had to go home and look on a map.”

She got the idea to help abroad when she was a college senior and wanted to pursue a volunteer assignment using her newly earned marketing skills. Even though it was in Africa and not Thailand — a country she recently visited on vacation — she felt she could still accomplish her goal with the Peace Corps offer.

“I know it’s going to be a challenging transition. Any change will be dramatic,” Matsumoto said. “I don’t know how people will treat me, but I want to make a graceful integration into their culture. It’s one of the reasons I’m going there. I want to learn more about the culture.”

Living in a foreign country shouldn’t catch Matsumoto flat footed, either. Her first exposure to international travel came during her junior year at college when she enrolled in a semester at sea during the fall of 2012 and visited 13 countries throughout Europe, Africa and South America with 500 other students.

“It was eye opening,” Matsumoto said. “Dekpor in Ghana was my favorite. They literally have nothing but their family and friends and they are so happy. And they don’t have any electricity or running water.”

That lack of modern conveniences is also a strong possibility in Matsumoto’s near future. Her Peace Corps instructions indicate that she will be given a bike, a helmet and a water purification system. She is prepared and yet knows she’ll miss her lacrosse teammates and her family and friends on Kauai.

But for now, her primary objectives are integrating into the culture and helping them to be sustainable. As far as her concerns about the Ebola virus in other nearby African countries, she tries to set them aside.

“Obviously, I’m nervous about it, but I trust the Peace Corps,” Matsumoto said. “If it gets dangerous, they’ll pull me out.”

She focuses instead on the joys she anticipates, especially after her experience in Ghana with the village children.

“Being with the families and kids running around with the them during recess, they have such happy spirits,” Matsumoto said.

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Lisa Ann Capozzi, a features and education reporter can be reached at lcapozzi@thegardenisland.com

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