The Peace Corps--Foreign Service Connection

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Peace Corps Library: Reference: Special Interests: Diplomacy and the Peace Corps: The Peace Corps--Foreign Service Connection

By Admin1 (admin) on Saturday, July 14, 2001 - 11:40 am: Edit Post

The Peace Corps--Foreign Service Connection

Feature Story:

The Peace Corps--Foreign Service Connection

By Donna Miles The author is the former deputy editor of State Magazine. Shannon Jones, a former student intern at State and a graduate student at the University of Georgia, contributed to this article.

An estimated one in 10 members of the Foreign Service has served in the Peace Corps--where many of today's foreign policy leaders learned "diplomacy at the grassroots."

Frank Almaguer was fresh out of college with a bachelor of arts degree and an interest in everything around him--especially international issues. Unable to settle on a specific career path and caught up in the excitement about the newly established Peace Corps that swept college campuses during the 1960s, he enthusiastically signed up.

That decision, one he admits he jumped into without much thought, ended up shaping the rest of his life.

Mr. Almaguer served as a Peace Corps volunteer, then associate Peace Corps director in Belize and later as Peace Corps country director in Honduras. Today he is building on his Peace Corps experiences in Central America as the U.S. Ambassador to Honduras.

Throughout its 38-year history, the Peace Corps has been a fertile training ground for the Foreign Service--the foundation on which many members of today's Foreign Service have based their careers.

Ambassador Charles Baquet III, a 31-year Foreign Service officer detailed as the Peace Corps' deputy director since 1994, estimates that 10 percent of the Foreign Service has served as Peace Corps volunteers. "There's a very natural connection between the Peace Corps and the Foreign Service," he said. "Both offer the opportunity to live overseas and an awakening to other cultures."

As a young man in New Orleans, Ambassador Baquet used to stay up into the early morning hours enthralled by stories of his cousin's time as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ethiopia. "I realized that the experience had changed him," the ambassador reflected. "He was focused and had a set of goals that he was moving toward."

Ambassador Baquet said he wanted that same sense of direction in his life, so he took the Peace Corps test and spent two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Somalia. During the assignment, he traveled throughout Africa and gained a strong appreciation for its cultures while carrying out what he calls "diplomacy at the grassroots."

The Peace Corps, he explained, is an intensive cross-cultural experience, allowing volunteers to "get into the culture actively, not passively." Peace Corps volunteers work to better the lives of disadvantaged people, helping them improve their educational, business, environmental, agricultural, health, nutrition and community development programs.

Kenneth Shivers in the Bureau of Personnel's Office of Recruitment, Examination and Employment spent two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in South India helping to teach local farmers how to increase corn, rice and millet production. Bill Weinhold, a policy officer for the former U.S. Information Agency, worked as a technician for a local radio station during his Peace Corps experience in Malaysia. He also coached softball at a local school and helped a women's organization compile a handbook on how to build traditional toys.

Ambassador to Indonesia Robert Gelbard served two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Bolivia, where he helped promote a national community development program. He said the experience, plus the inspiration of then-Ambassador to Bolivia Douglas Henderson, sparked what was to become a lifetime interest in foreign affairs. Ambassador Gelbard took the Foreign Service entrance exams while serving in the Peace Corps and entered the Foreign Service after returning from Bolivia. A year later, he became associate Peace Corps director in the Philippines.

In 1988, Ambassador Gelbard became the first former Peace Corps volunteer to return to his country of assignment as its ambassador. His greatest source of satisfaction, he said, was helping a project he'd worked with the Bolivians to launch during the 1960s--a cobblestone road through rural Colca Pirhua--become a reality. The road was named in honor of Ambassador Gelbard.

Ambassador Gelbard said the Peace Corps' programs are built on the same ideology that drives U.S. foreign policy--that it's better to help people help themselves than to simply do for or give to them.

"We tell our volunteers that we're sending them out with no resources, just what's in their head and in their heart," said Ambassador Baquet. "And we remind them that while working in the field, they serve as ambassadors for the United States, helping to counterbalance some of the perceptions many people have gained from TV and the movies. They help clear up a lot of the false perceptions out there through the way they articulate, carry themselves and express compassion."

Like many of his fellow Peace Corps volunteers, Ambassador Baquet said he returned to the United States from Somalia a changed man, committed to a profession that would expose him to new cultures, languages and value systems. He joined the Foreign Service, launching a career that took him to Europe, Asia and the Middle East before enabling him to return to Africa as consul general in Cape Town, then as U.S. Ambassador to Djibouti.

"I think I was a better Foreign Service officer and got more out of my career because of my Peace Corps experience," he said.

Ambassador Baquet isn't alone. The latest list of ambassadorial appointments, for example, reads like a virtual "Who's Who" of former Peace Corps volunteers and staff members. Ambassador to Kenya Johnnie Carson began his long professional association with the African continent as a Peace Corps volunteer in Tanzania. Ambassador to Cambodia Kent Wiedemann was a Peace Corps volunteer in Micronesia before joining the Foreign Service.

And U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Richard Holbrooke served in the early 1970s as a Peace Corps director in Morocco. It's an assignment he admits taking against the advice of his former boss and mentor, Philip Habib, who later served as under secretary for Political Affairs and in a variety of special negotiating assignments. Mr. Habib expressed concern that the Peace Corps assignment would be a diversion from the young Foreign Service officer's career development.

But Mr. Holbrooke disagreed--and still does. "I considered it then, and would consider it today, excellent preparation for other, more 'traditional' Foreign Service assignments," he said. "It provided management experience and supervisory experience at a young age, as well as interaction with a range of people that would normally not be a part of a Foreign Service officer's career."

Ambassador Almaguer, too, said his experience as a Peace Corps volunteer taught him many of the principles that have guided his Foreign Service career. "I came to appreciate that even across cultural divides and geographic settings, people have more in common than we assume," he said. "I also came to understand that while we, as individuals, may not be able to change the world, we can make a difference--but only if we respect each other as individuals."

The Peace Corps, he said, taught him more about economics, sociology and area studies than had any of his academic training. It also fueled his love of foreign affairs and development issues, which he built on as the Peace Corps country director in Honduras as U.S. Agency for International Development director in Ecuador, Eastern Europe and Bolivia; and, most recently, as ambassador to Honduras.

"While each new assignment has required that I learn the nuances of that country, I have felt that the Peace Corps experience has given me a running start in coping with new settings," he said. "I feel that I always had a leg up on those who did not have this opportunity to experience the struggles and joys of a small-town society in the Third World."

Ambassador Almaguer said the Peace Corps profoundly affected his personal life, too. "To add to the richness of my Peace Corps volunteer experience, I met and subsequently married a fellow Peace Corps volunteer, Antoinette, over 29 years ago--and still going!" he said.

He said he's never regretted either decision. "I would not have guessed it way back when I took off for Peace Corps volunteer training in Puerto Rico 32 years ago," he said. "But everything I have done since--both personal and professional--stems from the ill-formed but, in hindsight, right decision for me to join the Peace Corps."

By Janice E. Grant ( - on Sunday, March 27, 2005 - 9:17 pm: Edit Post

I am interested in doing something meaningful with Peace Corps. I am a returned Peace Corps Volunteer from Liberia and served 5 years there with my husband and son. We adopted a daughter, now and adult, 3 children of her own. We also sponsored 4 others from Liberia. All are still living in the United States.
I taught in several states before Peace Corps and taught again after returning. I find I need the meaningful experience I had with Peace Corps.
If there is any way I can serve I would like to know who to contact and how to contact.
If you can assist me, please help. 410.272.8187.
Janice E. Grant, 428 Law Street, Aberdeen, MD. 21001-3408

By Abdi A.Abdi ( - on Monday, January 09, 2006 - 12:00 am: Edit Post

I am trying to locate my former peace corps teachers. from Kismayu Somalia.

Add a Message

This is a public posting area. Enter your username and password if you have an account. Otherwise, enter your full name as your username and leave the password blank. Your e-mail address is optional.