November 8, 1998 - Daily Bruin: "You learn not to look at a situation only as an American," said Christophe Tocco, a class of 1991 graduate who recently returned from service in Morocco

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Morocco: Peace Corps Morocco : The Peace Corps in Morocco: November 8, 1998 - Daily Bruin: "You learn not to look at a situation only as an American," said Christophe Tocco, a class of 1991 graduate who recently returned from service in Morocco

By Admin1 (admin) on Sunday, July 20, 2003 - 11:47 am: Edit Post

"You learn not to look at a situation only as an American," said Christophe Tocco, a class of 1991 graduate who recently returned from service in Morocco

"You learn not to look at a situation only as an American," said Christophe Tocco, a class of 1991 graduate who recently returned from service in Morocco

Increase the peace
With an growing number of UCLA student volunteers, the Peace Corps hopes to make a difference in countries around the world

By Trina Enriquez

Daily Bruin Contributor

It's the toughest job you'll ever love.

Since its inception in 1961, the Peace Corps has sent 151,000 volunteers to make a difference in the lives of people in 130 countries scattered across the globe.

UCLA ranks ninth among universities in the country in sending alumni abroad, a distinction for which Peace Corps director Mark Gearan will award Chancellor Albert Carnesale in a closed ceremony today.

Nearly 1,500 UCLA alumni, faculty and staff have served as Peace Corps Volunteers, combating poverty, hunger, disease and lack of opportunity in the developing world.

"At UCLA alone, volunteer inquiries have nearly doubled," said regional recruiter Carol-Anne Bullis, noting the upward trend in interest that has developed in recent years.

"Nowadays, students are looking to more global careers, perhaps working for international corporations," Bullis said. "Peace Corps is a way to gain that experience."

In an age when mail crosses thousands of miles in minutes and people fly around the globe in hours, the Peace Corps is a way to gain perspective on other cultures which meet in a rapidly shrinking world.

The sensitivity to cultural differences gained by serving as a volunteer has been an invaluable tool, according to businesses whose clientele have become more and more international.

"You learn not to look at a situation only as an American," said Christophe Tocco, a class of 1991 graduate who recently returned from service in Morocco.

"You might think something is wrong from an American point of view, but to people of your host country, it's not wrong," Tocco said. "They just look at it from a different perspective."

Insight regarding perceptions of America sharpens as two different cultures come in direct contact abroad. Probably one of the most startling realizations lies in the way American culture is portrayed via satellite.

The prevalence of American programs and movies on foreign television renders impressions that may take volunteers several months to counter.

"It took folks a long time to believe I wasn't from the CIA," said Russell Davis, resident director at Sunset Village, who worked with small businesses in Honduras in the late 1980s.

"People would see images of American lifestyle on TV and think, 'If the U.S. is so rich, why would you come here unless you were a spy or had to perform mandatory service?'" Davis said. "We had to reassure them that working there was our choice."

In fact, it often takes several months to gain people's trust as well as assess the needs of the community and adjust to another culture.

Volunteers may find themselves dealing with other countries' perceptions of Americans.

"Bad movies and TV programs influence their perception of American lifestyle," Davis said.

He recalled how initially some mothers would grab their children off the street when he passed by.

"They thought I must either be an athlete or a murderer or thief of some type," Davis said.

After establishing trust and rapport, though, people of other countries usually prove to be warm and open to volunteers.

"People live in big extended families, and that offers a sense of community which sometimes lacks in L.A.," Tocco said of the emotional support he received in Morocco.

Bullis, who also served in Morocco, likewise learned the importance of family and human relationships.

"People really spend time with each other at such a different pace than is common in the U.S.," Bullis said. "People are so busy, so goal-oriented here; they don't make time to enjoy just sitting and talking."

Though she lived without comforts considered commonplace in the United States, Bullis said that she grew to prefer the simpler lifestyle. After returning to the United States, she concluded that Americans consume too much, eat too much and buy too much.

"I would ask for jam at the marketplace, and the merchant would hand over the one kind of jam available," Bullis said. "After I had returned to the States, going to a supermarket terrified me. There were so many choices ­ too many choices."

Davis came to similar realizations upon the completion of his term.

"I became more aware of how much I have and of the resources available here," he said. "I also became aware of how much we waste here."

In Tocco's opinion, every American should live in a developing country for awhile, just to realize what the United States offers and not take that for granted.

According to Tocco, Moroccans turned worn tires into water jugs and sold old cardboard boxes.

"Other countries can't afford to throw them away like we do," he said.

Other countries also maintain traditional ideas regarding gender roles.

"American women have a certain level of power because of the ability to have a voice that matters," Davis said. "In Honduras, that doesn't exist."

He recalled a time when, while channel surfing, he and several other men from the village had happened upon a music video featuring scantily clad women draped suggestively over the lead singer.

"The men turned to me and asked if I could hook them up with an American woman," he said. "They had the impression that American women were loose."

"As sexist as American men are, we take our views for granted, too," Davis continued. "That experience forced us to look at our own selves and change our behavior."

Such individual changes characterize the scale of differences made in the lives of people both here and abroad.

"We don't go in and change the world," Bullis said. "But because we want to learn and help, we make a difference in small ways that eventually lead to change and progress."

President John F. Kennedy may have had precisely that philosophy in mind when he first challenged 10,000 University of Michigan students who had gathered at 2 a.m. to welcome him shortly after his arrival in Ann Arbor in October 1960.

"How many of you would be willing to serve your country and the cause of peace by living and working in the developing world?" Kennedy asked.

The response was enthusiastic, and the following year, Kennedy signed the Peace Corps into existence.

Since then, thousands of volunteers have ranged an age spectrum from early 20s to late 80s. Ninety-eight percent of volunteers hold a bachelor's degree, and the remaining two percent possess equivalent business experience.

Volunteers can work at assignments ranging from teaching English and public health to business advising and environmental engineering. Upon submitting an application, volunteers may state their work and location preferences, though the ultimate decision is left to the application committee.

Recent years have seen an increase in the number of older people applying for assignments. Currently, the oldest volunteer is 76.

"We have volunteers who had served in the 1960s, came back and had families, and are now ready for another assignment," Bullis said. "People go when they're ready."

Tocco was one of those who decided to apply after working for several years.

"I felt strange working for a corporation where the only goal was making money," Tocco said. "I knew I couldn't do that for the rest of my life."

Davis experienced similar dissatisfaction before he discovered the Peace Corps option.

"I went to graduate school at USC and found a level of arrogance there that I wasn't prepared for," Davis said. "It's a great school, but there's an attitude, a level of privilege there (that bothered me).

"I felt that as an individual, I wanted to give something back," Davis said. "And after my assignment, I came back less cynical. I learned to see the beauty of humans instead of the negative part."

Thus, volunteers like Davis, Tocco and Bullis join the ranks of those who forgo the comforts of home for two years of adventure and service abroad.

Bullis acknowledged the concern many students have with the time commitment, but stressed the importance of the two-year period in accomplishing one's goals for service.

"It may not feel like a traditional nine to five job, but cultural adaptation is a huge part of the (time) commitment," Bullis said. "You're expected to assess the needs of the community and gain the trust of the people so projects will come out of that."

Davis cautions against joining the Peace Corps for the wrong reasons.

"Some people need to understand the difference between Club Med and Peace Corps," he said. "It may be beautiful where you are, but you're there to work."

As Bullis said, once people's gut feeling tells them the Peace Corps holds something for them, "the challenge of any assignment is that you have to create it."

"And there aren't too many entry-level jobs out of college that offer that kind of responsibility," she added.

"A lot of people are really afraid to give up family and material comforts," Tocco said.

"There are bad times and there are problems," Tocco said. "But all I can say is that at the end of two years, you're getting 20 times more in return."

Photos courtesy Ann Gretter

Peace Corps volunteer Jo Anne Nagano of Los Angeles chats with a Nigerian woman during her rounds as a health educator. Nagano served as a Peace Corps volunteer for two years in Niger, West Africa.

Carol Weymore was a teacher in California before joining the Peace Corps.

Photo circa 1961.

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Story Source: Daily Bruin

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



By Trina Enriquez on Monday, August 04, 2003 - 9:46 pm: Edit Post


I wrote this article in 1998 and was surprised (yet pleased) to see it posted elsewhere! After graduation I actually joined the Peace Corps myself as a TEFL volunteer (Ukraine 2000-02), and returned 8 months ago.


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