Ep #009: Catherine Cottam, South Africa 2013

Catherine Cottam served in South Africa in 2013. She was medically separated five months into service when she developed depression and eventually Bipolar Disorder. Yet, her service should be defined by more than mental health issues.

On this Episode:

  • I interview Catherine Cottam about her time in South Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer
  • We discuss her favorite memories of Peace Corps, and what she learned from her time in South Africa
  • The importance of self-care and recognizing the warning signs of potentially serious mental health issues.

Photos from Catherine’s Story

Catherine’s Peace Corps Story

Where and when did you serve? What did you do?

I was an education volunteer in South Africa from July 2013 – November 2013

What is one of your favorite Peace Corps memories?

My favorite memory of Peace Corps happened during PST. I decided to go on a walk through my village one day and I ran into some children playing in the street. They asked what I was doing and I explained that I was going on a walk. They asked if they could come with me and I told them that it would be great if they wanted to come. A few children quickly became four which quickly became six which, by the middle of our walk, became something like twelve children walking through the streets of my village with me with all of us singing and dancing, primarily to the Sepedi version of “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes.” The experience was pure joy. The children were so happy to be playing, singing, dancing, and laughing with me and I was so grateful to them for sharing their time with me and making me feel like I belonged in their home.

What is one of your least favorite Peace Corps memories?

While on site visit during training, I was walking with a PCV and other PCTs down the side of a road and a strange man came up to me and grabbed my butt.

What do you miss about the Peace Corps?

I miss the kids from my school who helped me with the library and my host families.

What is something you learned in Peace Corps that has stayed with you?

It’s actually really strong to ask for help when you need it.


If you are having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.