About Mandy

Name: Mandy
Birthdate: February 11 (which makes me an Aquarius!)
Hometown: Verona, Wisconsin (a stone's throw away from Madison)
Current Residence: A small shack on an island in the South Pacific

Q & A: (updated July 2014)

Why the Peace Corps? Why not? I love teaching and wanted an international experience doing so. It's been a blessing to live at the same level as the people in my village and I've learned so much about what I need in life to be happy... which is surprisingly very little. Prior to joining the Peace Corps, I'd been an elementary school teacher in the United States for 6 years. I've taught in Wisconsin, Florida and Colorado and have always had the itch to teach abroad. In 2011, I started a graduate degree in Educational Policy and during the Spring 2012 semester took a class in "International and Comparative Educational Policy" at CU-Boulder. It was there that I learned about the Master's International Program through Peace Corps so I applied and here I am!

What is the one thing you'd most like to change about the world? I wish more people would look for the good in everything... and I mean everything. Even if you don't agree with how something is being done or what someone else believes, chances are there is a small part of it that you could connect to. If you look for the good, it's easier to be more open. It's easier to be a better listener and maybe we wouldn't have so much conflict.

What's your favorite thing about Tonga? The people (and their stories!)... and coconut water. I love them both.

What's your happiest childhood memory? What makes it so special? I don't think it's one particular memory, but looking back I really loved that my parents made it a rule that every night we eat dinner together. No matter what are schedules were, at 6pm we knew to all meet around the table. My dad would always ask questions like "What did you learn today?". At the time I didn't realize how special it was.

What do you love? Lots of things! Tea, saying hello, saying hello again after not seeing someone for a very long time, kale, sandals, sunsets, sailboats, quinoa, being cold, coconut trees, stories, wearing jeans and plaid, chuck taylors... the list is long. I'll stop there.

Do you ever just randomly make noises? I find that sometimes noises describe life so much better than words. And sometimes, when words fail me, I just use sounds to get my point across. Occasionally I get eye rolls, but most times people just laugh. This also works when speaking a different language. :-)

What's your favorite word? There are so many good ones! I currently love the word circumnavigate. 

What's the best advice you received before joining Peace Corps? One of my friends who had spent time abroad told me how detrimental it is to compare cultures looking to find out which is best/worse. When learning about the Kingdom of Tonga I took that to heart and really thought about how my time here shouldn't be spent deciding what America does better than Tonga or what Tonga does better than America. They are simply different and these differences should be celebrated. Being different is okay!


  1. Why are we the same person? My name is Amanda, and I read magazines back to front. Good luck out there!

  2. Hi Mandy! I'll be joining the Tonga group 79 this year. Would you mind if I picked your brains a little about life in Tonga and what I should do to be a little more prepared? Would really appreciate it! Also, your pictures are gorgeous. What camera do you use?

    1. Lana! I would love that - my email address is mandypederson (at) gmail (dot) com. Let me know if you have any questions :-) Hope you enjoy your last few months in America!

  3. Hi Mandy!! I am from Southern Indiana, so I too am a Midwesterner - my fiance and I are planning to move to Vava'u this year to live off-grid and offer my freelance skils/love for saving the ocean. Before going to Tonga, we will be making a few month visit to my Father in Alaska to get the into to the island life and practice off-grid/homestead living. We will also be visiting Los Angeles (where my fiance and I lived while meeting) to catch up with family and friends.

    I have a blog documenting our preparations and such, you can view it at escapetovavau.com -

    I would love to hear more about your life in Tonga thus far. I have been talking to many expats and locals online and have a good picture of the lifestyle and vibe, but I love hearing new/personal stories!

    I appreciate you! Talk soon - Becca A, Escape to Vava'u