One year in to her UC Denver graduate studies, Amanda Horvath stored her belongings in a friend's basement and joined the Peace Corps.
"My mother said, 'Why volunteer in another country when you could do it in the U.S.?' My feeling is that there are people who have the sensibility to leave their home countries and volunteer, and there are others who don't. I have a sense of adventure and wanted to immerse myself in another culture."
As part of its environmental education project in Paraguay, the Peace Corps placed Horvath in Ayolas, a town that hugs the banks of the world's seventh largest river by volume, the Paraná. Equipped with high-school Spanish and three-month's training in Paraguay's indigenous language, Guaraní, Horvath lived with host families, developed personal and professional contacts and eventually cast herself as the community's environmental education resource.
"That's why we're there for two years," she says. "You need that time to learn the languages and have a grasp of the culture and make friends and contacts."
Horvath spent 30 months in Paraguay, team-teaching with Paraguayan teachers and developing extracurricular programs for kids. Working with a local nongovernmental organization, she formed a youth eco-club with a core group of about a 10 high school and college-aged students. Together they went bird-watching along the banks of the Paraná every Saturday and completed a bird census, collecting data on the region's avian diversity.
Horvath also completed work on her thesis, "Water Education in Paraguay," a teacher-training workshop and manual she customized for Paraguay and taught to elementary school teachers in three Paraguayan towns.
While there, Horvath also negotiated the recycling of fire-fighting gear between two U.S. units and the Ayolas department. For this she was made an honorary Paraguayan fire fighter.
"I put 100 percent of myself into Ayolas," she says. "My heart will always be there."
On May 15, Horvath graduated from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences with an MS in environmental sciences.