December 8, 2005: Headlines: Recruitment: The California Aggie Online: Peace Corps brings new experiences to UC students

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Peace Corps brings new experiences to UC students

Peace Corps brings new experiences to UC students

You are sometimes the only American within hundreds or thousands of miles in a place where the language is likely not your first. You are an alien, a stranger in a foreign land; you are a Peace Corps volunteer.

Peace Corps brings new experiences to UC students

A stranger in a foreign land
Layercake: Peace Corps brings new experiences to UC students
By: Ryan Willingham
Issue date: 12/8/05 Section: Features
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Your plane lands and you leave the airport to take a look around at what will be home for the next 27 months. If you have prepared for your assignment, then you should have an idea of what to expect in terms of the culture and living conditions. Reading about the new nation, however, is not the same as actually living there.

You are sometimes the only American within hundreds or thousands of miles in a place where the language is likely not your first. You are an alien, a stranger in a foreign land; you are a Peace Corps volunteer.

This is not to say that the Peace Corps is not worth being a part of, but it is certainly not easy.

Stephanie Alford, the UC Davis Peace Corps student adviser, said the application itself is a lengthy process with paperwork, medical evaluations and interviews. The whole process lasts from six months to a year.

The particular assignment for each applicant is based on a combination of what region they wish to work in, what skills they possess and what their job preferences are. Their tasks with Peace Corps are based on what is most needed in the country they will be sent to as well as what skills the applicant brings to the program.

"The more flexible the applicant, the better candidate they will be," Alford said. "We really try to emphasize that Peace Corps is not a vacation, but rather 'The Toughest Job You'll Ever Love.'"

An applicant signs on for a service of 27 months, which includes three months of training in their assigned country and two years of service. There are no options for shorter programs.

Volunteers are provided with time for vacation and can leave early if they deeply dislike their position or fall ill. Leaving early is greatly frowned upon by the corps, however, because it is considered to be unfair both to the foreign nation and the applicant. Volunteers are able to extend their service or serve again later if they choose.

Former President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps in 1961 with the intention of providing aid to countries in need, promoting a positive example of American citizens, offering jobs and life experiences to applicants and strengthening cultural awareness in America.

UC Davis alumnus Benjamin Blair is one of the latest applicants for the Peace Corps program and will be leaving for his service in July 2006. Blair began the process of joining the corps after learning about the program from an advertisement outside South Hall.

His assignment will be in a secondary school as an English teacher. The country he will be sent to has not been selected yet, but it will be from a list of about 20 different countries in Asia.

Blair's experiences while studying abroad in Chile during his senior year helped him prepare for how to conduct himself during his time in the corps.

"I would say that the global sentiment toward the United States isn't as friendly as it once was, which is why it is critical to be open-minded and accepting in order to dispel the stereotype of the 'Ugly American,'" Blair said.

Sarah Schaefer is also among the new applicants for the corps and will begin her assignment at the end of January 2006 in Honduras as part of a program on child health and AIDS. In preparation, she has traveled to Central America and studied Spanish.

"I haven't previously had much contact with AIDS patients and I imagine this experience will affect me most," Schaefer said. "I've observed that high poverty rates really change the way people interact with each other. You don't see this as frequently in the U.S., especially in academic environments. It's an eye-opening experience."

Zandi Llanos, a UC Davis alumnus, is nearing the end of her training for her service in Peru. So far she has had to adjust to the slower-paced lifestyle in Peru and the locals' willingness to help her with Spanish or anything else she needs.

"I never realized how much of an individualistic society the U.S. is until I came here," she said.

Post-service corps applicants found their missions to be memorable and worthwhile as well.

Corrine Kirkbride, a UC Santa Barbara alumna, left for service in April 2001 as a math teacher. She was originally stationed in Macedonia, but because of civil unrest she was transferred to the islands of Vanuatu in the South Pacific.

"Being a role model to these kids was an incredible responsibility," Kirkbride said. "If even one of my students goes on to become a great teacher, I feel my time in Vanuatu will be worth it."

Like Llanos' description of Peru, Kirkbride said life in Vanuatu was slower than what she was used to. Even still, she found the locals to be friendly and generous toward her.

Former corps volunteer Joshua Rapport also served in Vanuatu and found other aspects of foreign life difficult.

"For me, the food was pretty hard to get used to, as was the slower pace of life," Rapport said in an e-mail interview. "But once I adjusted to those things ? I came to really enjoy them."

Rapport, who also worked as a teacher, took notice of the different living conditions of Vanuatuans compared to Americans.

"I lived in a village without running water, roads, or electricity and when visitors would comment about the poverty, I didn't see it," he said. "To me life was pretty good for people there. They all had some kind of home and, barring natural disasters, plenty of food, and they had it without the pressures we feel here for success."

Rapport originally joined the corps with his girlfriend, who was enthusiastic about joining. The corps will only place married couples together, so Rapport quickly married his girlfriend, but their service proved difficult for their relationship.

"It was pretty hard on the marriage and we're getting divorced now, unfortunately," Rapport said. "But I don't regret joining the Peace Corps at all."

Officials urge anyone who wishes to learn more about the corps to read So You Wanna Join the Peace Corps: What to Know Before You Go. Interested parties can also visit

RYAN WILLINGHAM can be reached at

When this story was posted in December 2005, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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Read the stories and leave your comments.

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Story Source: The California Aggie Online

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