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Gainesville man making a difference by teaching children in Samoa
Award-winning blog highlights Zack Agerton's life of working with Peace Corps in South Pacific
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Some of Peace Corps volunteer Zack Agerton's students complete their homework in the classroom in Samoa.

Growing up, William “Zack” Agerton heard wonderful stories from his family members about traveling and working all over the world.

His father and grandfather served in the U.S. Army. His mother grew up in Thailand. And his aunt and great aunt volunteered with the Peace Corps in Ghana and Botswana, Africa.

“Growing up, I had this unique view of the world,” Agerton said. “I loved to hear about culture.”

This view and love of other cultures instilled in him the same desire to travel and work abroad. And for the past year, he has been satisfying his desire as a Peace Corps volunteer in Samoa.

The Peace Corps is a service opportunity for motivated changemakers to immerse themselves in a community abroad, working side by side with local leaders to tackle the most pressing challenges of our generation, according to its website (www.peacecorps.gov). And the national organization has taken notice of Agerton.

The 26-year-old was named one of the Peace Corps’ winners in its Blog it Home contest. Of the more than 300 applicants, eight winners were named, including Agerton. His blog, called “The life of a Pisikoa serving in Samoa,” can be found at www.zigzaglifeblog.wordpress.com.

As a prize, Zack returned to the U.S. capital for a week to promote the Peace Corps’ third goal: Promoting the cultures experienced abroad in their home countries. He delivered presentations at public schools and universities and to the Girl Scouts in Washington, D.C.

His goal is to share culture through the eyes of an American.

“And show a beautiful culture that people all around the world could understand and back home as well,” he said.

Choosing volunteerism

While Agerton wanted to experience a different culture, he didn’t immediately choose the Peace Corps.

“I knew I wanted to serve abroad but didn’t know in what kind of fashion,” he said.

After graduating from North Hall High School, Agerton attended the University of North Georgia and earned a dual degree in early childhood and special education. Then he worked for a nonprofit, but was told he may want to start looking for a new job because of funding issues.

Then, in Christmas 2014, he decided to apply for the Peace Corps after visiting a friend out of state. During his trip, Agerton watched the movie “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” He said the movie was about a man who let life pass him by and never traveled the world like he wanted.

“I had been saying I wanted to do this for so long, I thought ‘Why am I just saying it and not doing it?’” Agerton said.

A month later, he applied to the Peace Corps. After an interview and waiting period, Agerton was offered a position in Samoa. By October 2015, he was on the island country in the Pacific Ocean located halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand.

Teaching on the island

In Samoa, Agerton is an English literacy resource teacher, meaning he teaches basic English skills to children in third, fourth and fifth grades. His students treat him differently than their other teachers.

“When I walk out of my house in the morning and I walk the 10 feet to the school, my group of kids ... immediately run up and say ‘good morning Setu,’” Agerton said, indicating Setu — which roughly translates as Seth — is the name he has adopted in Samoa. “They always have a big bright smile on their face. They don’t act that way with their other teachers.

“Knowing that I’m a special part of their life, that is really inspiring for me every day,” he continued. “It keeps me going.”

When Agerton first arrived in the country, he didn’t speak the language. Luckily, many Samoans speak English because of the tourism industry.

However, several years of Spanish helped since Samoan and Spanish share the same vowel sounds. But the difficulty in teaching is the lack of a grammar structure in the Samoan language.

“It’s interesting teaching English through Samoan,” Agerton said.

Living in another country

Before leaving for Samoa, the 26-year-old admits he didn’t know much about the country.

“When I got there, it was like a complete 180 on the view of the world,” he said, adding the culture is so different.

He recalled his very first night in the training village when he and his host brother, who is the high chief of the family, were brought food on small tables.

Agerton described the amount of food as “obscene.”

“All of the kids and untitled chiefs were just sitting in front of us watching, and it was so unsettling,” he said.

A child stood near the food to fan flies away. In the Samoan culture, children serve the adults and then eat after them.

“The food itself was woah — half of a pig, boiled bananas,” Agerton said.

He ended up having dreams of buffalo wings, which he got when he was in the United States last month.

Returning home and seeing family

Agerton hadn’t planned on coming back to the U.S. mainland during his 27-month assignment in Samoa. But his blog award earned him a round-trip plane ride to the states and weeklong stay in America.

“I’m 11,000 miles away,” he said. “I didn’t really expect to see any of my family. I was excited to get to see some of my family.”

Agerton was also excited to drink sweet tea and eat buffalo wings.

Agerton’s father, Mark, said he misses his son every day. He and Zack’s mother, Sindee, speak to him on the phone from their McDonough home about once every two weeks. They communicate most often on Facebook messenger.

“I think it’s great. He’s always been wanting to do something overseas,” Mark said. “His mom and I are very proud of him.

Mark said was not surprised his son joined the Peace Corps. He said his son had a calling to do something different.

“He started working with children and disabled children, and this was just a natural step for him,” Mark said of his son’s work with the Peace Corps.

Mark has seen his son’s abilities with children at home and abroad. He and his wife traveled to Samoa in April 2016 to visit their son.

“We saw him with the kids, saw him with his family (who’s) sponsoring him,” Mark said. “They brought us in and had meals with us. They were fantastic people.”

Zack lives inland with a host family on a school compound where he works.

“Life is very, very slow,” he said.

Mark said Zack is finding his niche of making a difference in the world.

“The children just loved him,” Mark said. “You can just see it, they just kind of run to him.”

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