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

Heading to Nepal — in 1962

37students farewell

At just 18 years old, Jane Gore packed her bags, said goodbye to her friends, family and classmates at the University of Illinois, and headed to Washington, D.C., to begin training as part of the first group of Nepal Peace Corps Volunteers. More than 50 years later, as she prepares to retire and leave her position as Chief of Evaluation in Peace Corps’ Office of Overseas Programming and Training Support, we celebrate her contributions to the agency and to PCVs by sharing her story, which begins in the summer of 1962, just one year after President John F. Kennedy urged the nation’s youth to become peace ambassadors for the United States.

A University of Illinois undergraduate student at the time, Jane was to receive her training at George Washington University — an experience marked by lengthy lectures on American foreign policy, lots of language training, health assessments and frequent check-ins by Sargent Shriver, the first Peace Corps Director. “Every few days, Shriver would stop in and ask us: ‘How’s training going? What have you learned? What should we be doing?’” Jane says. “We called these ‘Shriver chats.’”

To prepare Jane’s group for Nepal’s mountainous terrain, Volunteers were flown to Colorado for four weeks of training in the Rockies—including rappelling, rock climbing, and map reading (despite Nepal likely not actually having any maps) — led by the Outward Bound school. Continue reading

To fetch a pail of water


Here’s a puzzle:  When I lived in a village, Zambia, I got my water from a stream that lay 350 yards down a gentle slope from my hut. Every day, I would make at least one trip down to the stream – two trips or maybe three on laundry days – and hike back up to my hut with a dripping 10-liter bucket in each hand. That would be my water for drinking, washing, bathing and brushing my teeth. It sounds like a chore, and I suppose it was, but it was also a pleasure, a pleasurable chore.

And therein lies the puzzle. At home, if I need a drink of water, or I need to wash my face or brush my teeth, I turn on a tap. If I need to bathe, I hop in the shower. Convenient? Sure. A pleasure? Hardly. I do these things with barely a thought – in fact, I often do them while thinking of something else entirely. I think the answer to this puzzle lies in mindful living.

If it takes hardly a thought to turn on a tap, it takes considerable thought to decide it’s time to get some water, to fetch the buckets, and to step off down the path. And one does not mindlessly tote 40 pounds of water 350 yards uphill, or anyway, I never did. Continue reading

7 reasons to apply to the Peace Corps campus program you’ve never heard of

It’s a little known fact that you can get involved with the Peace Corps well before you serve — or even apply. Peace Corps Campus Ambassadors work as networking experts on their college campus, helping Peace Corps recruiters get to know the community and relevant groups. Ambassadors share their enthusiasm for making a difference abroad, international development and the life-changing experience Peace Corps has to offer with fellow students who may not know anything about Peace Corps. Why should you apply to Peace Corps Ambassador on your college campus? Here are seven reasons:

Continue reading

Corps to Career: From PCV to yogi entrepreneur


“Make sure that you are doing what you love and that you are doing it for the right reasons because when difficulties arise, that’s what is going to pull you through.” That’s RPCV Philipa von Kerckerinck’s advice for anyone interested in starting their own organization, something she did after returning from PC service and identifying two of her passions: yoga and the developing world.

In 2007 Philipa began her service as a PCV in The Gambia, where she taught General Science to 11th graders. It was during her Peace Corps experience that Philipa learned how to function in a culture radically different from her own. Responsible for 180 students from different cultural and educational backgrounds, Philipa learned the importance of flexibility, perseverance and maintaining a sense of humor when handling life’s challenges. Continue reading

What’s in your bag, PC trainee?

First Kosovo Staging held in Washington, DC on June 7, 2014

Peace Corps celebrated a new country on the list of Volunteer destinations when it sent it first class of trainees to Kosovo earlier this summer. We asked PC trainee Elizabeth Moore, what’s in your bag?

“The one thing I HAD to pack, based on the recommendation of my mother, was the board game Scattergories! I will use it to help my students practice using words in English and have fun while doing so.”

Being illiterate for the first time, in a long time


It’s taken me two years to figure out how to put this into words, to try to entirely understand this sensation, to try to verbalize one of the most humbling experiences I have endured in life.

Being illiterate for the first time, in a long time.

It brings a person into a sense of helplessness, and vulnerability. It forces you to trust others more than you ever thought you would. It forces you to look at the world through a new set of eyes.

I remember when I first came to China, two years ago. I remember going to a restaurant, trying to buy something at a store, hopping on a bus to go across town, buying a train ticket. All of these things that I took for granted back in America because they were so easy. But when you are illiterate and just beginning to grasp a country’s native language, these things feel near impossible. Continue reading

Goodbyes to Guinea for now


The recent evacuations of PCVs from Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone brought with them a flood of emotions from friends and family, PC staff, the American public and, of course, the Volunteers themselves. As Volunteers in Guinea gathered to go home for an uncertain amount of time, Country Director Doug Teschner asked each of them to write or draw on a post-it note one sentiment about the whole experience.

Four framed photographs in PC Guinea’s conference room are covered with the joys and sorrows of the Volunteers, all of whom are now back in the U.S. “Words like ‘Love,’ ‘Family,’ and ‘Home’ are common and very touching. Staff wander in there to have a look, which always brings smiles to our faces,” writes Doug in a newsletter that goes out to staff and Volunteers. “Thank you for inspiring us; it makes us want to work all that much harder to support you!”

Teschner also encourages Volunteers back in the States to use their time to work on the Third Goal. “What better time to educate Americans about Guinea and Africa?!” he asks. “Share pictures you have and put together small presentations about Guinea and your PC experience.”

10 things you need to know about student loans and Peace Corps

Student Loans

1. Not all loans are created equal.                                                                                   Public vs. private, subsidized vs. unsubsidized, Stafford vs. Perkins, federal vs. private. It’s complicated but you need to know exactly what types of loans you have and have a plan for each. Talk to your lender and visit the Department of Education federal student aid website and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau website on student debt repayment to learn about types of loans and types of repayment plans. Then visit the Peace Corps page on student loans to see how your service will affect each loan. If you have a private loan, you need to talk to your lender to see if any loan relief options are available. If they do offer loan relief, get the options in writing.

2. As a PCV, some federal loans could be deferred.
Federal Direct, Federal Consolidation and Stafford loans qualify for a deferment for up to three years during service. Federal Perkins loans qualify for deferment during service and for six months immediately after your service ends. For more details, visit the Peace Corps page on student loans. If you have a private loan, contact your lender to see if they provide loan relief during Peace Corps service. Continue reading