When I was ten years old my grandpa and I went to Honduras to visit my aunt, who was serving in the Peace Corps. During the two weeks I was there I learned a few key phrases in Spanish (¿donde esta el bano?), experienced a new culture, made new friends, learned how to make tortillas from scratch, and was awoken early each morning by a rooster. The experience made me look at the world from another perspective and made me appreciate many of the things I took for granted living in the United States, such as clean water, education, and paved roads. That trip was a pivotal moment in my life; I promised myself that I too would one day join the Peace Corps.
Realizing the Dream
In May 2006, my dream of serving in the Peace Corps came true when my husband and I departed the United States for Bolivia, a land-locked country in South America. We arrived in the city of Cochabamba, where we spent three months in training. Half the day we took Spanish classes and the other part we learned about Bolivian culture and gained more skills in our project areas. We were part of a group of 30 other volunteers. Each of us lived with a different Bolivian host family. After those three months of training we were officially “Peace Corps Volunteers” and we were then sent to our sites, where we would spend the next two years. My husband and I were placed in Huacareta, in the region of Chuquisaca, a rural village of about 1,000 people.
Working in a Bolivian Community
My main project was to work with the schools in and around Huacareta. I worked with teachers, introducing them to a more interactive teaching style. I also taught children and women’s groups the importance of sanitation, nutrition, dental hygiene, AIDS/HIV prevention, and computer skills. One of the most rewarding experiences was working with a women’s group to start a peanut butter-making business. The women learned about proper food handling, the nutritious benefits of peanut butter, accounting methods, and working together as a team with specific roles. I thoroughly enjoyed working with them; throughout the process the women and I shared many stories and laughter, and I was able to learn so much about them. I also got to witness the empowerment that the women felt from earning their own money.
The Benefits of Service
Joining the Peace Corps is one of the best experiences of my life. I got to be immersed in another culture, learn a new language, make new friends, and most of all, I got to learn much about myself. Since being back home in the United States I have connected with other returned Peace Corps Volunteers and shared with others about Bolivia. Other benefits include a readjustment stipend, deferment of student loans, reduced graduate school tuition, noncompetitive eligibility for employment in the federal government, and of course the professional skills gained during service such as learning another language, cross-cultural understanding, and international experience.
Start Your Own Life-Defining Experience
I encourage anyone who has thought about living in another country and wants to share their skills and experiences with others to look into serving in the Peace Corps. Volunteers serve in 77 countries (Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Central and South America, Europe, and the Middle East) and provide technical assistance in six program areas: education, youth and community development, health, business and information and communications technology, agriculture, and environment. If you have any questions or concerns about the Peace Corps or the application process, please contact me, I would love to talk with you. The Peace Corps website is another great resource: peacecorps.gov
My advice is to do your research about the program and talk to as many returned Peace Corps volunteers as you can about their experience. I love quotes and one that I think about often is by Samuel Johnson – “When making your choice in life, do not neglect to live.” Each day in the Peace Corps definitely made me feel alive.
OSU Peace Corps Campus Representative
Posted by Jen Busick, Peace Corps Campus Representative and Career Resource Specialist