Justin Hamilton has never been to Nepal.
The south Asian country has a population of about 29.3 million people and is located in the Himalayan mountains. Nepali is a language foreign to most Americans, and the Nepali culture can seem even more alien than the language.
It couldn’t be more different than the northern Missouri farming community Hamilton grew up in.
But he can’t wait to go.
Hamilton, a seventh-generation farmer from Princeton, Missouri, graduated from Oklahoma State University in December, and on Jan. 30 he will depart for Nepal as a member of the Peace Corps. This is a dream he has had since his sophomore year at OSU, and he is excited to finally be able to do it.
“Two big motivators for why I’m serving is curiosity and service of others,” Hamilton said. “Service to others in a lot of ways is just the question of waking up each day and saying, ‘How can I dedicate myself to make a positive impact in the lives of those that need it the most?’ I see the Peace Corps as an awesome option for me to do that for the next 27 months.”
When Hamilton was a sophomore, he worked in a research lab with Steve Hallgren, then a professor in the department of Natural Resource Ecology Management.
At the time, Hallgren was preparing to retire from OSU and was in the process of applying for the Peace Corps. Having served with the Peace Corps in Morocco from 1972-74, Hallgren shared stories from his adventures overseas and advocated for Peace Corps service.
“Hearing him tell his stories about that was interesting, and it struck a chord with me at that point in my education,” Hamilton said. “It seems since then I have not been able to stop running into former Peace Corps volunteers.”
After Hallgren planted the idea to join the Peace Corps in Hamilton’s head, Hamilton lived with a former Peace Corps volunteer in Portland, Oregon, and several of his friends from OSU went on to join the Corps. He couldn’t get away from the idea, but he still wasn’t sure it was the right move for him.
But that changed when he volunteered at Stillwater Middle School.
Hamilton worked as an engineering outreach tutor at Stillwater Middle School his junior year and loved it. He said he enjoyed working with the kids, and he realized he truly enjoyed doing service work.
“It definitely influenced me with how fulfilling serving can be,” Hamilton said. “I’d never really realized how fulfilling and immediately satisfying helping others is before tutoring.”
As he prepared to graduate with his bachelor of science in industrial engineering and management, Hamilton knew he had to apply for the Peace Corps. After going through the extensive application process, he was officially accepted June 30, 2019.
He said none of his friends or family were surprised, and one of the first people he reached out to after receiving the news he would go to Nepal was Hallgren.
Hallgren, who had just returned from his two year service in Tanzania, said he didn’t realize Hamilton was applying but was happy to hear he was accepted.
“He’s the kind of guy that could gain a lot from it,” Hallgren said. “He could also have a lot to offer. I think Justin will do a great job.”
Now, a little over a month after leaving OSU, Hamilton is about to embark on his next journey in life.
When he arrives in Nepal, he will live with a host family for three months while he learns the culture and language of the country and completes his technical training. After three intensive months, he will join a community in Nepal and work with the locals to increase food security and agriculture for two years.
Hamilton knows joining the Peace Corps isn’t the traditional route most engineers take after graduation, but he knows it’s the right route for him. He’s ready to see how his service will change him, and he’s ready to start his life in Nepal.
“I’m just really excited,” Hamilton said. “This is a really exciting next step for me. I hope I can use all the passions that I gained while at OSU and use the skillset that OSU and my friends and work and family have all prepared me with. I’m really exciting to take that next step.”