ST. CHARLES – Nick Koenen is used to brutal rugby matches and navigating around the Kane County Public Defender's office in two languages. But he might face his biggest challenge yet overseas.
Koenen, a St. Charles resident, will spend the next 27 months in the Philippines as a volunteer for the Peace Corps, an international service organization of the U.S. He will organize service projects and help residents there with their English.
Koenen, 23, leaves St. Charles on Wednesday for a training session in the Los Angeles area. On July 5, he will leave for Manila, the Philippines capital. While Koenen is abroad, he will have a cellphone but limited access to the Internet. He also will have to beef up on Tagalog, one of the languages spoken in that country.
Koenen's only other time outside the U.S. was during a weeklong band trip to China when he was a St. Charles East High School Wind Ensemble member. Koenen admits that he might not fully realize what he's getting himself into, but he said he knew he wanted to make a difference in the world.
"I always thought of doing something service oriented," Koenen said.
Koenen, graduated from Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri, in December 2013, with a criminal justice degree. He wasn't sure he wanted to go into law enforcement but started exploring public service through two summers at the Kane County Public Defender's Office. As a Spanish minor, Koenen said he enjoyed being able to hear and practice Spanish in the bilingual office.
Koenen found out about the Peace Corps through Nora Graves, a friend of his sister. She served in Tonga in the Pacific. When Koenen began the nearly yearlong application process, he asked to be placed in the Carribean or Latin American to further hone his Spanish. In May, he was offered the Philippines instead.
"This is a challenge," said Bill Sexton, the rugby coach at Truman State University. Koenen was a member of the team. "He's going halfway around the world to a place where he's going to be tested, and I think he's really going to enjoy every minute of it."
Sexton said Koenen knows how to laugh at himself and gets along with his teammates well. He was the captain of the team for three years. As a tackler, Koenen has one of the most demanding roles on the rugby field but is never afraid to go up against someone bigger than he is, Sexton said.
Sexton, who served as a reference for Koenen, was glad he was accepted into the Peace Corps because the organization appears to be scrutinize its applicants more than in previous years.
Koenen said after his first three months abroad, he will have two days off every month and might group his days together to return to the United States for a visit. He said he does not get homesick often.
His mother, Marcia Koenen, said she and her husband Mark, the St. Charles city administrator, will miss their son. At the same time, they want him to be his own person and build his own life.
"[Nick] will return for the better," Marcia Koenen said. "When you have these kinds of experiences, they change you."
The Peace Corps is an international service organization of the U.S. For information about the Peace Corps, visit www.peacecorps.gov.