Pacific Beach resident headed to do Peace Corps work in Panama
Salt, sand and sea have been part of Blake Curl’s story starting at age 6 when his family moved from the East Coast to Australia.
“My parents had never surfed or anything before,” Curl said. “I got signed up for a lesson within my first week of moving to Australia. I was literally hooked. It’s been probably one of the most influential things in my life, which is pretty wild to think about.”
Little did Curl know that his craving for the waves would set the trajectory for the future places he would live and the opportunities for where he would work.
Whether it was his first surf lesson in Australia, teaching as a surf instructor in Pacific Beach, or interning for a non-profit certification body for sustainable surf tourism, the rhythm and movement of the ocean led his migration to PB.
“I had never been out here before, but PB was the first place I ended up,” Curl said. “I think that’s probably the reason why I ended up in San Diego initially. I was so interested in seeing how the waves were out here. Once I got out here, I pretty much just fell in love with PB.”
Curl, 27, has lived in Pacific Beach for seven years and became more integrated in the community while working at San Diego Surf School on Law Street. It was his first job in San Diego, and he said it allowed him to find a surf community.
“That was one thing that helped me make relationships with people in the community because those kids were locals usually,” Curl said. “Their parents would come hangout on the beach. That surf school’s owner is pretty heavily involved in the community. Through working with people that are living in the community and meeting people who are living there and wanting to learn how to surf, it was a really great way to feel a part of the community.”
And now, new waves of change are rolling into Curl’s life as he spends the next two years in Panama with the Peace Corps. He leaves in late June.
In May, Curl graduated from San Diego State University with a degree in geography and a minor in food studies. He found a passion for food studies while at SDSU.
“That’s kind of one thing that I nerd-out about and am passionate about,” Curl said. “What that would mean in terms of my geography degree is (exploring) how different food systems work, why certain populations have certain health issues and what kind of solutions can be implemented to solve those.
“I think that there’s a lot of opportunity internationally to educate people, and empower people to really have a more diverse diet and access to healthier foods, and I think the benefits of that could be huge,” he said.
Curl said his interactions with teachers and students at SDSU reaffirmed his decision to apply for the Peace Corps.
“I’ve had two professors in particular that both went to the Peace Corps, and as soon as I started talking to them, saying I was interested in applying, they’ve really kind of inspired me to really commit to it,” Curl said. “It’s been so impactful for anybody who I’ve talked to about doing it.
“The fact that SDSU has such a diverse campus also really inspired me to go do something outside of my comfort zone, in a different country, because after meeting so many awesome people from so many different places it really made me commit to knowing I wanted to live in a different country for a while,” he said.
While a student, Curl completed an internship with Peace Village, an immigrant aid organization. He helped with one-on-one tutoring and general English teaching. And, he interned for STOKE certified, a non-profit organization focused on sustainable tourism for surf and snow resorts. Curl said he will be utilizing what he learned at SDSU and through his internships to serve as a youth health facilitator in Panama.
Curl applied for two positions in the Peace Corps where he’d either be sent to Panama or wherever he’d be needed most. When Curl heard that he had been selected for Panama, he was ecstatic.
“I was super excited,” he said. “I called my mom immediately because I knew she would be super happy. It was kind of a weird time too. I heard back a while after applying and it was only a couple of months before graduation, so I was kind of getting a little bit nervous about what I am going to do after graduation. Not only did it provide me that peace of mind of having something that I really wanted to do lined up and work out after school, but also it made me feel like I was doing what I was supposed to do.”
Upon arriving in Panama, Curl will attend a pre-service training for three months. Then he will be assigned a specific location in the country to serve.
As a youth health facilitator, Curl will be focusing on health promotion activities such as after school programs and clubs that are extracurricular. Additionally, Curl said he is excited for the opportunity to conduct needs assessments and create long-term solutions to benefit the community.
“One of the big things that they hope to be able to do with the Peace Corps volunteers is for (us) to identify a problem and then implement a solution that is going to work long after we’re gone,” Curl said. “That is a big part of the service that everybody does in their community.”
Curl said after his time in the Peace Corps, he hopes to work for USAID (United States Agency for International Development) or another of the big international aid organizations. When his two years in Panama are up, he said the waves of Pacific Beach will be calling home.
“It’s really hard to see myself living anywhere else now long-term just because of how at home I feel there,” Curl said of his plan to return to Pacific Beach. “I think also I’m most likely, if things keep going the way they’re going with one of my internships, there’s a good chance I’ll come back and do grad school at SDSU.”
As Curl catches this wave out of PB, he is looking forward to the new experiences ahead of him.
“I think that’s going to be a whole new world opened to me,” Curl said. “I’m excited to integrate into a new culture.”
Curl’s advice for people heading out into the world post-college and those interested in the Peace Corps is, “Take a leap of faith and don’t get too caught up in doing exactly the right thing after school. Just be open to things that might not be exactly what you initially expected.”
To learn more about the Peace Corps visit peacecorps.gov.