Khyle Eastin '12: Have Wonder, Will Travel
This article was originally published in the Winter 2018 issue of Cyrus.
Khyle Eastin ʼ12 keeps his options open and his passport at the ready because his curiosity of the world knows no borders.
As a Peace Corps volunteer in China, Eastin constantly pushes beyond his comfort zone to gain the skills and insights he believes will serve him well in a career in international relations and conflict resolution. With his Corps service ending in July, Eastin eyes a return to the U.S. for graduate school and the chance to build his network in Washington, D.C.
Question: Why did you join the Peace Corps and what type of work are you doing?
Answer: A close friend who I talk with a lot about career interests mentioned how great joining the Peace Corps would be, so I looked into it. I wanted more work experience outside of the U.S., and I wanted to continue working on my Chinese. So it was great to find out Peace Corps had an option to serve in China. I'm currently teaching first-year oral English to English majors at the Sichuan University of Science and Engineering.
Question: You're also a Sichuan Province Volunteer Advisory Committee (VAC) representative. Can you talk about that?
A: VAC was formed to work with Peace Corps China Administration on issues of Peace Corps policy and overall volunteer service experience. Representatives are peer-elected. Pursuing the role was a move to push me out of my comfort zone, practice diplomacy skills and act as a bridge to understand both the volunteer side and the administrator side of an issue. It's pushed me to be proactive in terms of meeting new people and making the rounds to talk to people. It's been a great experience.
Q: You began your Peace Corps work in June 2016 and your service ends in July 2018. What's next for you?
A: I am applying to grad school programs, focusing on area studies. I'm interested in China as a region and its growing economic, military and strategic interests in Central Asia [and how those] link to the Middle East. Specifically, I'm focused on China's politics and security and how the country is becoming a regional power in Central Asia. I'm mainly applying to schools in Washington, D.C. because there are a lot of opportunities in my field and I'd like to set up a network there.
Q: You have lived in both China and the Middle East. What drew you to these parts of the world?
A: I took Mandarin at Blake, and I spent my junior year of high school in China. While I was there, I fell in love with Arabic when I met an imam who did Arabic calligraphy. He talked about the beauty of Islam using both Chinese and Arabic, which I thought was really cool. I liked the sound of the language and the alphabet was really pretty and very different from Chinese. I started learning the alphabet toward the end of my time in China then did an independent study in Arabic while continuing Chinese my senior year of high school. I continued Arabic my freshman year at Pomona College and later spent a year abroad in the Middle East — half in Amman, Jordan, half in Jerusalem.
Q: Your degree is in international relations with an emphasis on conflict resolution. Why did you decide on this focus?
A: One of my international relations seminars focused on war: why conflicts start and ways they can end. We discussed insurgency, terrorism and political violence in general. It wasn't for everybody, but I was really drawn to it. Now, as I'm writing my grad school apps, one of the things I talk about is how people who come from oppressed backgrounds feel they're not properly represented by the state. You can find examples where sections of oppressed communities feel their only option to be heard is through violence or intimidation. I'm not saying that was something I ever considered, but I did grow up respecting the ideals of Malcolm X, the Black Panther party and the Black Power movement, which was more a defensive than offensive movement. That experience helped me when we'd have conversations in class and students would ask, "Why do people fight so dirty?" or "Why are these people so angry?" or "Why do terrorist groups pop up?" I'd often respond by asking, "Have you looked at the conditions they've been living in? Have you looked at how the state responds when they try to go through legal channels to bring up these issues? Have you considered the apathy society has toward their issues?"
Q: What advice do have for someone hoping to have a meaningful cultural experience?
A: Never stop challenging yourself. One thing I always tell myself and my students is the teachers I respected the most were the ones who never stopped learning and who made it clear they didn't know everything. They might be experts or they might have studied extensively in a certain field. People might reach out to them for insights on a certain topic. But that doesn't mean they have all the answers. So it's important to abide by this reality that you don't know everything, no matter how much experience you might have. This motivates me to keep an open mind, to keep learning and to not get too comfortable.