October 25, 2003 - Charleston Net: Young people still flock to Peace Corps

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Headlines: Peace Corps Headlines - 2003: October 2003 Peace Corps Headlines: October 25, 2003 - Charleston Net: Young people still flock to Peace Corps

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Young people still flock to Peace Corps

Young people still flock to Peace Corps

Young people still flock to Peace Corps


The Greenville News

GREENVILLE--Forty-two years after John F. Kennedy started the Peace Corps by calling youths to serve America and the world in the cause of peace, the country's volunteer humanitarian army is still raking in the recruits.

The stereotype of Generation X and Generation Y is one of the pampered sons and daughters of baby boomers, addicted to fast food and video games. But the vast majority of the 6,700 active Peace Corps volunteers in 70 countries are from those two generations.

Furman student David McGill said he thinks it's still popular because "as young people, we really don't have our minds focused. This is a chance to do something positive, and it's only a two-year commitment."

John Parsell, 26, and others in his generation were not alive when Kennedy called youths to serve, but a new culture of service and activism calls young adults to areas of the world forgotten by the West. Parsell recently returned to Greenville after spending more than three years in Tonga, a small island in the South Pacific.

The 1999 Furman University graduate left for Tonga armed with a German language-and-literature degree and a desire to work toward a doctoral degree. He taught English in an all-girls Catholic school before coordinating the Peace Corps mission in Tonga.

"I realized I would be spending my early 20s in libraries looking at old German texts," he said. "I had a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of energy. I wanted to direct that toward something positive."

Nearly 1,000 South Carolinians have joined the Corps since it began, and about 60 are currently posted somewhere in the world. They've taught local populations chemistry and English, built schools and instructed farmers on more productive farming techniques.

Like any army, the Corps is always looking for recruits. Peace Corps recruiter Keith West visited Furman and Wofford College recently. McGill signed up. He hopes to be assigned to Morocco or Jordan, places he's interested in because of his curiosity about Islam and Arabic culture.

"I want to compare that with my Christian beliefs," he said.

West said the number of people interested in the Corps is up. He attributed the new popularity to the lagging economy and to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

It's not just college students who feel the call. The oldest Peace Corps volunteer is 84 years old. There are retirees, married couples and people who need time off from corporate America. They work for a minimum of 27 months -- two years as a volunteer and three months of training.

"It has proved over the course of time to be a good experience for people who want to learn more about other parts of the world," said Glenda Bunce, a Corps volunteer from 1964-1966 in Venezuela. "If you want to do international work, the Peace Corps is a good place to work."

Bunce, an Aiken native, said her work in Venezuela helps her every day. She's now an immigration attorney with Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Charleston. She learned Spanish through her service with the Peace Corps.

But Peace Corps activism is not strong in the South. Of the top 78 universities that sent volunteers to the Peace Corps this year, 10 were in the South. The 1,000 volunteers South Carolina has sent abroad since 1961 is half the number sent by just the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. And there are nearly as many Californians in the Peace Corps right now as there have been South Carolinians in the history of the Corps.

One thing hasn't changed much in 40 years: If you met a Peace Corps worker on the street, that person is most likely female, single, college-educated and 25 years old; much like Robyn Zimmerman's daughter, 26-year-old Amber Little, who left for Nepal recently.

"She absolutely loves it," Zimmerman said. "She said the people are very friendly and look up to the Peace Corps volunteers."

Literally and figuratively. She said the diminutive Nepalese are "in awe" of how tall her daughter is.

Zimmerman also said her daughter has always loved taking risks and meeting new people, but Little's desire to join the Peace Corps took her by surprise. Zimmerman thinks her daughter was looking for meaning in her life.

Zimmerman sent her daughter two small boxes of items she requested. It cost $84 and will take a month to arrive. "In the days before e-mail, how did parents do this?" Zimmerman said. "I'm so proud of her."

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Story Source: Charleston Net

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; Recruitment



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