Corps to Career: It takes a village to make a movie

Cast Rehearsal

A year into service in Ghana, Travis Pittman scrawled “HOW DOES IT FEEL?” a line from Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” onto a bedroom wall. It was a reflection on being the outsider, spending time living away from a privileged life and learning how others live. Travis was totally and completely immersed in another culture — working along Ghanaians, learning their language and eating their food. That level of immersion left a lasting impression.

Feeling an outsider, Travis also observed that Ghanaians felt like outsiders themselves in the rapidly modernizing world. Years after finishing Peace Corps, Travis returned to Ghana to create Nakom, a film that Travis hopes will honestly reflect the struggle between Ghanaian traditions and the desire to modernize. Travis says it is an opportunity to give audiences “a different lens to see the world,” which is what Peace Corps gave Travis.

Even going into Peace Corps, Travis wasn’t necessarily looking to make an enormous impact in the world. Travis simply wanted to lend an extra pair of hands and gain a wider understanding of the world and focused on building relationships and making small differences in the lives of the people in the community. Pittman devised small-scale projects that helped local families generate income by raising and selling rabbits and also arranged for a village-wide tree-planting that still excited the community when Travis went back to film. Continue reading

10 Albanian habits that are making me a rude American


When you’re living somewhere new, it’s easy to acquire traits to mimic what is around you. Living in Albania, I’ve started to “become Albanian” in many ways: the way I cross the street, order at restaurants, look (i.e. WEAR ALL THE LIPSTICKS), but especially the way I communicate. However, many of these habits are considered rude in America. So, when I move back, I’m in for lots of dirty looks.

1. Finger wagging: This is a necessity. Continue reading

Bringing PC Moldova home


I tend to fall in love with places. Pretty much any place I visit, I can find something charming and imagine a life in that community. This makes sense on a tropical island or in a resort town. But would it hold in Europe’s poorest country? It turned out that my Peace Corps home was no exception to the falling in love rule. When I arrived in the Republic of Moldova in the summer of 2011, I immediately took a liking to the backyard chickens, cherry trees, homemade wines and slower lifestyle, and I also really loved my host sister. We bonded quickly and I kept dreaming of ways I could someday get her to visit – or even to stay – in the U.S. I kept up this tendency with many of the people I met during the following two years, imagining how we could keep our lives connected even after my “official” time with them was over.

Toward the end of my service I was introduced to the idea of a project in entrepreneurship education for youth, run by the University of Delaware’s Horn Program in Entrepreneurship, by a family friend and mentor. He was a wildly successful entrepreneur and was passionate about sharing the possibilities of entrepreneurship. Known as the Diamond Challenge, the project is an original curriculum in entrepreneurship that teaches youth how to build a business like a scientist, and it culminates in a start-up competition. Continue reading

National Day of Service: service in our own backyard

Day of Service with Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet

To commemorate today’s National Day of Service and in remembrance of the September 11 attacks, Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet joined RPCVs and former AmeriCorps volunteers for an afternoon of volunteer service.

Their volunteer work wasn’t at your typical food bank: Food & Friends in NE Washington, D.C., fosters a community that cares for men, women and children living with HIV/AIDS, cancer and other life-challenging illnesses by preparing and delivering specialized meals and groceries, and they conduct nutrition counseling.

Director Hessler-Radelet donned a hairnet and spent the afternoon hours with MCC CEO Dana Hyde, CNCS CEO Wendy Spencer and NPCA President Glenn Blumhorst packing meals and groceries that are to be delivered to the Food & Friends community. The Peace Corps Director joined thousands of other Americans who dedicated their day to service events to pay tribute to and honor the victims and heroes of the events on September 11, 2001.

International Literacy Day: What’s in your book-locker?


Wait, what’s a book-locker?

For a few years in the early 1960s, Volunteers would receive “book-lockers” from Peace Corps: a large cardboard box full of books. Book-lockers contained everything from classical and contemporary fiction to an abundance of nonfiction titles in politics, history, technical instruction, psychology, health and geography. Some book-locker books were tailored to the country (Brazil, Ethiopia) or continent (Africa, Asia) in which a Volunteer served. Some book-lockers also had illustrated materials and abridged titles to be used as teaching materials for children and adults learning English. These book-lockers were standard supplies for the early Volunteers and served as sources of leisure, company and instruction. Many book-lockers became the beginnings of classroom or community libraries.

RPCV Mimi Calhoun worked as an English and math teacher at a local school in Nepal from 1966 to 1967, where she taught English in every class from third through 10th grade. Neither Peace Corps nor the school provided teaching materials, so Volunteers were responsible for making instructional materials and lesson plans.

So when the book-locker arrived with Calhoun’s luggage, it was A BIG DEAL. Continue reading

On preserving and sharing world cultures



RPCV Jeremy Wustner-Brown has gone from teaching English in rural Romania as a PCV to working to preserve Mayan culture in his newest project. We asked some questions about his work and his views on why it is important to have intercultural dialogues.

Q: Why did you become a Peace Corps Volunteer?

A: One of my favorite authors, Viktor Frankl, puts forward in his book “Man’s Search for Meaning” that as human beings we thrive best when we have meaningful purpose in our lives and in the work we do.  Although I have been very fortunate to collaborate with some exceptional companies over the years, I felt that there was an opportunity to have a greater, and more meaningful, impact through service.  For me, becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer has been the best way to begin that search.

Q: How did you become involved in the preservation of the Mayan culture? Continue reading

Two RPCVs making a difference in Baltimore – and earning a graduate degree

Can Peace Corps help pay for my master’s degree? You bet!

Last week Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet visited with two RPCVs taking advantage of the Coverdell Fellows Program to see how they’re building a stronger economy by giving back to their local community. Brooks Binau (RPCV Zambia, 2011-2013) and Greg Couturier (RPCV Peru, 2009-2011) are earning their master’s degrees while completing service projects at Lakeland Elementary and Middle School in Baltimore.

Each day Brooks and Greg utilize the skills they gained during their Peace Corps service to engage Lakeland students, parents and staff in hands-on activities to strengthen the quality of education and community involvement at a school where 94% of students come from low-income families. Continue reading

9 beliefs about Peace Corps service that ended up being (almost) wrong



A few months ago, a video went viral among PCVs. It featured two points of view: an idealistic voice imagining a dream life of service and a somber voice identifying the realities of living in a developing country.

The idealist said, “I’ll eat organic fruits and vegetables grown by local farmers.” The counterpart responded, “You’ll see a woman selling hard-boiled eggs that have been sitting in the hot sun for eight hours. You’ll tell her, ‘I will buy two. With some peppe.’ You’ll devour the eggs and spicy sauce.”

I thought I’d eat healthy living in a farming community. I didn’t know that local farmers grew mainly yams and cassava. I’ve eaten many starches and more than my share of questionable protein. But I figure hard-boiled eggs – no matter how long they’ve basked in the sun – are safer than (who knows what kind of) meat.

Here, I contrast nine of my pre-service thoughts with the reality of living in West Africa. Continue reading

The hidden world


stone cactuses

Jose’s love for the national park is apparent in his movements, his voice, and if you listen closely, his words.

As I admire Jose’s appreciation for the park, I read something else in his eyes. Suddenly the tone in his voice becomes clear. While walking the proposed route for the new trail, I think I detect a hint of upset. There must be something going on.

I begin to dig into a hidden world.

Interpreting another culture is like looking through a camera lens: While you see something real in the frame, the lens makes it impossible to see the whole picture. Continue reading

Ukraine … it’s next to Russia


Last Days in Bratslav 040

I was home for a visit from Peace Corps during the weekend of my high school class’s five-year reunion, but I didn’t go: in part because I had other plans with friends, and in part because I didn’t want to spend the evening saying “Ukraine … it’s next to Russia” over and over when being asked about my service.

“I learned Ukrainian … yes it’s a language … well, they speak both, one side of the country speaks more Ukrainian and one side speaks more Russian … yes, they’re really similar …”

“I teach English … 5th through 11th grades …”

“Two years and three months …”

I still answer these questions – now in past tense – pretty frequently, whenever I allow myself to broach the subject with new people when I’ve thought of a funny story and I just can’t keep my mouth shut any longer, even though I know I’ll have to go through the same routine again. My friends who already know the basics suffer more – I have much less hesitation bringing up Peace Corps to them, and do so constantly. Continue reading