Opinion | Peace Corps service remains underappreciated


Photo courtesy of US Embassy South Africa/Flickr

A Peace Corps South Africa volunteer gets sworn in for the HIV outreach projects for different provinces in 2019. Senior columnist Andrew Prozorovsky believes that the Peace Corp is underappreciated in its services and benefits they have done.

By Andrew Prozorovsky, Senior Columnist

Many Americans have some vague notion of what Americorps and the Peace Corps do but would be overtaxed to produce specifics. Furthermore, many of the misconceptions Americans have about the Peace Corps reflect an older model and neglect the innovations and progress the agency has made in the recent decades: protecting volunteers and offering more flexibility in their service.

At large, service in the Peace Corps is underappreciated and misunderstood by large swaths of the public. Service is not for everyone and certainly has its own limitations, but the Peace Corps as an institution deserves to be known for what it is rather than what it isn’t.

The Peace Corps used to require its volunteers to apply somewhat blindly — applications were not extensively personalized or transparent. Since 2014, however, volunteers apply to specific programs in certain countries, with options on one’s application to indicate flexibility. Aside from providing the volunteer some assurances before committing oneself, it also accounts for the fact that some programs are better suited for certain individuals than others.

It is a two to three year commitment, but to serve in the Peace Corps brings a large number of benefits. Some are obvious: The volunteer (hopefully) gains a more worldly perspective and a spiritually fulfilling experience. The volunteer may find fluency or near-fluency in a previously unfamiliar language (and some of those languages, like Spanish or Arabic, are incredibly useful).

But other boons can be found on the Peace Corps’ official website.

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First, the Peace Corps extensively trains its recruits. There is technical training for the work one is undertaking in their community, rigorous and immersive language training, health training on first aid and avoiding common illnesses, training on safety and security during service and cross-cultural training. All of these aim to prepare their volunteers for total integration into the community they serve.

On their website, Peace Corps benefits are laid out sixfold: financial, travel, medical and dental, career, graduate school and student loan benefits.

Moreover, the Peace Corps gives an edge to those seeking employment with the federal government. It can help get one TEFL certified (Teaching English as a Foreign Language). They provide medical and dental care during service. A living stipend is provided to volunteers with vacation days for traveling. Volunteers who complete their service are granted $10,000.

Safety and security for their volunteers are paramount to the Peace Corps, especially given that some of the communities where volunteers are sent can be remote. Therefore, volunteers have access to a security manager at all times.

Aside from the information that can be easily found on their website, I have learned more about service through attending Peace Corps events here on campus.

During a panel with different Peace Corps veterans, they were asked about culture shock. They discussed the culture shock that they experienced returning to America, and how it made them more aware of problems like food waste and excessive indulgence. Though the term “culture shock” has somewhat of a negative connotation, they described their experience as something that had transformed them into better, more socially conscious individuals.

Additionally, in its training, the Peace Corps aims to squash any budding “white saviorism” complexes. The volunteers are instructed not to view themselves as superior or messiahs to their communities, but rather just an additional helping hand who has integrated into their community and seeks to learn from their community as much as they teach.

Service for the Peace Corps is a privilege I, myself, hope to have one day. Per their website, 90% of the volunteers would recommend service. Every interview I have been privy to indicates the Peace Corps is an enriching experience that the vast majority of Americans sadly never even consider.

The Peace Corps isn’t suffering from a lack of volunteers. They have more and more qualified applicants volunteering every year. Nevertheless, Americans are tragically unaware of the amazing improvements the Peace Corps has made as of late, and these hardworking volunteers deserve more recognition than they currently attract.

I implore you to investigate their website and subreddit for yourselves, and even if you find that service is not for you, you may still find a more realistic, valuable understanding of the Peace Corps as an institution.

Andrew is a senior in LAS.

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