2006.06.12: June 12, 2006: Headlines: COS - Palau: Daily Bruin: Tai Sunnanon spent two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Republic of Palau, an island of 17,000 located in the Pacific

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Palau: January 23, 2005: Index: PCOL Exclusive: Palau : 2006.06.12: June 12, 2006: Headlines: COS - Palau: Daily Bruin: Tai Sunnanon spent two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Republic of Palau, an island of 17,000 located in the Pacific

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Tai Sunnanon spent two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Republic of Palau, an island of 17,000 located in the Pacific

Tai Sunnanon spent two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Republic of Palau, an island of 17,000 located in the Pacific

Sunnanon said he chose to volunteer in the Peace Corps out of a "genuine desire to help a developing country" and requested to serve in a small, rural village because it would be the most "grassroots" approach. In his village, there was no hot running water, few phones and electricity that went out on a regular basis.

Tai Sunnanon spent two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Republic of Palau, an island of 17,000 located in the Pacific

Peace Corps aids global, personal development

By Sara Taylor
DAILY BRUIN SENIOR STAFF
staylor@media.ucla.edu

On the first day of his diving trip to the Republic of Palau, Tai Sunnanon found himself face to face with a clam more than a meter in length.

"It was the one time I screamed like a girl," said Sunnanon, who graduated from UCLA in 2001 and spent two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Republic of Palau, an island of 17,000 located in the Pacific.

Earlier that day, Sunnanon had downed four bowls of stew, which he later found out was made of turtle intestines. As he ate, villagers crowded around him, cheering at the foreigner who was so open to a new culture, he said. Sunnanon described the experience as a rite of passage.

With this sudden initiation, Sunnanon entered the village community of 300 where he would spend the next 24 months as an educational volunteer, working on projects including bringing new textbooks to the local school and advocating for national education reform.

The Peace Corps, though an option relatively few graduates elect, is a post-graduation path some students from universities across the country choose to pursue.

Peace Corps volunteers spend three months in training in the region they have been assigned. Volunteers then spend two years in a developing country doing work such as improving health conditions, strengthening agricultural techniques and aiding in the growth of small businesses.

David Briery, a public affairs specialist for the Peace Corps, said about a third of those who apply actually end up volunteering; some drop out of the application pool because they realize the Peace Corps is not right for them while others are found ineligible based on outstanding criminal charges, unpaid debts or lack of experience.

Currently, 49 UCLA alumni are serving in the Peace Corps, and 1,626 have volunteered in the Peace Corps since the program started in 1961.

Sunnanon is one of those UCLA students who chose to join the Peace Corps but though he said he gained invaluable experiences, he was quick to add the work is not for everyone.

Sunnanon said he chose to volunteer in the Peace Corps out of a "genuine desire to help a developing country" and requested to serve in a small, rural village because it would be the most "grassroots" approach. In his village, there was no hot running water, few phones and electricity that went out on a regular basis.

[Excerpt]

"There's an element of frustration. (In the U.S.), you're used to seeing the fruits of your labor," Sunnanon said. "In the Peace Corps, ... you see the fruits of your labor years after you leave."

Sunnanon said there were two times when he was ready to pack his bags and return home. He said he spoke to friends pursuing careers and attending graduate school in the U.S. and questioned whether the Peace Corps was the best use of his time.

But both times, Sunnanon ended up staying quitting was not the route he would take.

Sunnanon was not alone in his inclination to return home as about 30 percent of volunteers who are sent abroad return before completing their two years, Briery said.

"A huge element is homesickness. Everyone will (be homesick) at some point," Sunnanon said.

Though Lee said she did not have much difficulty with homesickness, especially as she built relationships with people in her village, the isolation of the area could be hard for others.

She had no access to phones or e-mail in her village. She said she communicated primarily by snail mail, which she picked up at a nearby village. She accessed e-mail about once a month and hardly ever spoke on the phone.

But those who make it through the application process and stay for the full two years come home with experiences they would likely not otherwise have had, and say they return to the U.S. with a changed view of the world.

"We have this idea view here in the States ... that you need to do this or that," Lee said. "But then you see something else ... and things aren't (as) black and white as they used to be."





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