Peace Corps gives students opportunities for experience, friendship

John Milligan

In the 50 years the Peace Corps has been functioning, it has recruited more than 200,000 volunteers and served in 138 countries.

Regional recruiter Annabel Khouri will have a table at the career fair in the Student Center Wednesday.

Khouri graduated from the University of Vermont in 1996 and spent the next two years serving with the Peace Corps in Kenya. She said there are many benefits to volunteering with the group.

“Number one, (volunteers) get on-the-ground, real-world experience,” she said. “And secondly, the life experience they gain from living overseas and working cross culturally — there is just nothing that compares to being in the Peace Corps.”

The Peace Corps has an online application which can be accessed by anyone who is 18 or older. Volunteers undergo an interview process, an assessment of skills and a full medical check before they’re deemed eligible for service.

Volunteers typically serve for 27 months, which includes three months of training while living with a host family and two years of service in an area in need that fits the individual’s skill set.

Brett Wilhelm graduated from Kent State in 2007 with a degree in international relations before joining the Peace Corps. Wilhelm said he decided to join the group after returning from an internship in Sweden during his junior year.

“I had always been involved in volunteer organizations; I was always pursuing activities to improve the places I had been,” he said. “I wanted something that challenged me, and I thought I would be able to give back.”

Wilhelm served in Vice, Peru, where he worked with community and environmental managers to develop a waste management system. He also helped organize a recycling program with the local government.

Emily DeLacey received her master’s degree in nutrition from Kent State this summer before deciding to join. She is scheduled to leave for Malawi, Africa, in March to work as a community health adviser in rural HIV and AIDS clinics.

“I like helping people and I like travelling,” she said. “The Peace Corps was able to provide an experience where I thought I would be able to make real and meaningful change. I think they do a great job of making lasting and positive changes.”

Khouri said volunteers are given a living allowance that is about the same as that of the people they serve, as well as providing them with full health and dental benefits. Volunteers are also given two days of vacation time for each month of service they finish.

Wilhelm said the real joy in volunteering came from making new friends and immersing himself in a different culture.

“I still keep in touch with people from my community. It was emotionally difficult to leave,” he said. “It was more than just work; it was more than just an assignment. I had really made some real friends.”

Wilhelm said that while he was happy to help the residents of his adopted community, he benefitted from the experience more than the people he was helping — even meeting his wife while in Peru.

Wilhelm said he met his wife, a Peru native, volunteering in an orphanage in her hometown. He said they met during a welcome dinner for Peace Corps members.

“There was a long table filled with 40 people. There were only two seats left, she sat down next to me, and the rest is history,” he said. “When you meet the right person, you meet the right person.”

While not every volunteer is sure to find true love volunteering abroad, veterans of the Peace Corps said they agree with Khouri; new recruits can look forward to gaining experiences they’ll need for the workplace.

“I think it’s a great opportunity to gain practical work experience that can translate into any job,” Wilhelm said. “The ability to understand the needs of your client is a really great skill I learned in the Peace Corps.”

“I think it will help with my career,” DeLacey said. “I think the Peace Corps will give me focus and connections that will help me define what I want to do with the rest of my life.”

Whether they’re looking to help others or polish their real-world skills, Peace Corps alumni said the experience is an unforgettable one.

“I found out when I got there that even though I did give a lot to the community I was in, I found out I had received a lot more than I was giving,” Wilhelm said. “It’s risky, it’s gutsy, it’s not for the weak of heart, but if your heart is in the right place, it’s a life-changing experience.”

Contact John Milligan at [email protected].