Friday, May 3, 2013

The Peace Corps: A Post-Collegiate Option to Consider

By Faye Forman 

President John F. Kennedy founded the Peace Corps in 1961 with the intention of “promoting world peace and friendship.” With three simple, yet sustainable goals the Peace Corps has grown into the largest federally funded volunteer program for citizens in the United States. 

Its mission aims to provide service to developing countries, help promote a better understanding of Americans, and to encourage a better understanding of citizens in developing countries. With over 8,000 volunteers and trainees serving in 76 countries around the world (since 1961, 200,000 volunteers have served in 139 countries), the Peace Corps is an especially popular option for college graduates.

After obtaining a bachelor’s degree, it is a common practice to continue on to graduate school or go job hunting. Although these are the more popular options, it’s also important to consider alternative opportunities that can enhance your resume as well as give back to others. The Peace Corps has a variety of options for recent grads, returned volunteers and professionals. They’ve even recently implemented “short-term” placements (as opposed to a traditional 2 year term) for returning Peace Corps volunteers, consisting of 3-12 month jobs.

Placement locations can vary depending on where service is requested. A volunteer can be placed anywhere from North Africa to Asia to Europe. The actual service that the foreign country requests can be under six categories: Education, Youth and Community Development, Health Issues (HIV/AIDS Awareness), Business and Information & Communication Technology, Agriculture, and Environmental Impact Awareness. 

There is a three-month long cultural integration period where the volunteer is trained in the country’s language, educated in its culture, and prepared to spend 27 months in the foreign country. Student volunteers also reap great benefits such as student loan assistance (even deferment or cancelation), language and technical training, full medical and dental coverage, paid vacation days, a monthly living and housing allowance, and much more.

To get a glimpse of what the life of a volunteer is like, here is a recollection by Donna E. Shalala, who was placed in Iran as a Peace Corps volunteer and later was appointed by President Clinton to be the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services in 1993:

“The day that I remember most vividly in the Peace Corps was the day after President Kennedy was assassinated. Depressed, some friends and I were not in the mood to deal with the local beggar when he approached us. But then with a sad smile, he said, ’No money. I want to tell you how sad we all are that your young president was assassinated.’ There, in a remote town halfway around the world, a distraught young Peace Corps Volunteer and a beggar embraced and cried together over the death of President Kennedy. Years later, looking back at my Peace Corps service, I realized that a wise ’mullah,’ an insensitive Dean, and students struggling to preserve a traditional society in a modern age had changed me forever. I had become a citizen of the world. Because of the Peace Corps, I was sensitive to cultural differences, comfortable sitting on mud floors and talking to tribal leaders, respectful of the role of religion, and in awe of the struggles of desperately poor people who manage to maintain their dignity and care for their children.”
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Faye Forman is a sophomore at St. Thomas Aquinas College. She plays tennis on the Women’s Tennis Team at STAC and is a member of APO, a co-ed community service fraternity. Faye plans to transfer to Bard College to major in Human Rights & International Relations, and eventually become a Peace Corp Volunteer herself.

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