Peace Corps reforms application, prepares for national week

Peace Corps reforms application, prepares for national week

By Isabella Jackson

Across the nation, Peace Corps members are sharing their stories through online videos, information festivals and discussion events as part of National Peace Corps Week. Since 1961, the first week of March has served as the anniversary of President Kennedy’s establishment of the Peace Corps, which the University celebrates through a variety of events. Alissa Harvey is the current campus representative for the Peace Corps and works with members of the newly-formed UIUC Peace Corps Club. The RSO gives information about the application as well as support to students interested in the mission of the Peace Corps.  

The University has ranked as an influential contributor of volunteers for the majority of the history of the organization. On this year’s Peace Corps Top Colleges list, the University ranks 20th in the large school category, with 36 current alumni volunteers. 

Harvey’s experiences overseas gives her first-hand knowledge of the organization. She worked in the Republic of Georgia from 2010 until 2012 teaching English to children in grades one through 12. While there, she also worked on secondary projects, or optional extra tasks, such as working in public health or writing grants in her spare time after teaching. 

After her time in the Peace Corps was done, she was awarded a grant to teach in Indonesia, after which she returned to the United States and was hired as a campus representative. 

Olivia Buechner, sophomore in AHS, is the president of the UIUC Peace Corps Club. She said that she started the club with four other Peace Corps ambassadors, students who were already affiliated with the national organization and were eager to spread information about work with the Peace Corps on campus. 

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Krupa Patel, sophomore in LAS, is another club member who said that the friendly nature of the group gives students who are curious about the Peace Corps a chance to learn more information.

“People are more inclined to come repeatedly and be invested in the group,” she said. “It motivates them to learn what the Peace Corps does.”

Because working with the Peace Corps requires a two-year commitment overseas, Harvey said that some people are scared to be put in a situation that is far outside of their comfort zones and worry they will be lonely. Instead, Harvey said that workers are welcomed into the village or town where they live and have life-changing experiences. 

“This sounds cheesy,” Harvey said. “But you are challenged more than ever before, physically, mentally and emotionally, and you get exposure to another culture and language.”

Harvey said that the Peace Corps workers have a specific job and are paid, but they are paid a living wage in the area that they work in. This helps workers empathize with the people that they are surrounded with on a deeper level.

The UIUC Peace Corps Club also works to aid students that are applying to the Peace Corps. 

A student needs to have spent time volunteering, preferably in the area of work that they wish to do, before submitting the application. Patel said that for example, someone who wanted to teach English in a foreign country would need experience teaching or communicating some kind of skill. 

“By connecting and collaborating with other RSOs and departments, they are able to track volunteer opportunities in the area,” Harvey said. 

The admissions process to the program has changed in recent years, and the application is now much shorter. While this is simpler for students filling out the form, there has been an increase in applications for the same number of jobs. 

“The club really helps (Illinois students) be the most competitive candidates for the spots,” Harvey said. 

The club members hope that their presence will benefit the campus in years to come. Harvey hopes that an increased student presence will lead to the creation of scholarships and fellowships for students looking to pursue graduate degrees after working in the Peace Corps. 

Harvey said that one of the main goals of the Peace Corps is in bringing other cultures’ influence and a widened world-view back to the U.S. 

“Diversity has been a big issue in the news recently,” Patel said, “Getting kids to want to explore other cultures and serve others is really beneficial.” 

Patel is planning on applying to the Peace Corps next year. She said that looking at the application process can be overwhelming but having the support of a group prepares her and makes sure that she does not get thrown off. 

Although she does not know exactly where she would want to go, Buechner said that she hopes to help others overseas in the future. 

“I’m going to go to grad school for OT right after graduation, but I’d like to use that or public health and bring those services there,” she said.

Buechner said that an added benefit of having an official group on campus is the opportunity to share experiences and form relationships with returned volunteers. 

“It’s a way to network and hear their stories,” Patel said. 

Although events happen throughout the year, in the upcoming week, returned Peace Corps volunteers will be located at events around campus to answer questions and encourage students who are interested in pursuing a future with the Peace Corps.

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