Dear Teachers and Students,
In recognition of all the displaced workers, especially recent graduates, I’d like to share my experience volunteering for the Peace Corps. It’s an alternative to the 9 to 5 job and can lead to an international career. Given the current economy, looking for work outside the US may be the right move for you! When I graduated from college, I joined the Peace Corps in 1985. I remember how many of my friends and even professors thought that it wasn’t a good idea for my career. In fact, I had difficulty finding references for my application because my professors didn’t approve of my decision. One professor did; she told me that it would be the best decision that I ever made. She was right.
How was I selected to go? I had received my bachelor of science in clothing, textile and design and was accepted to work as a nutrition educator because many of the volunteers in this branch were also working with clothing cooperatives, as income generating projects for destitute women. I also grew up with the Spanish language spoken at home. I served in a small village in the state of Copan in Honduras, Central America. I was a nutrition educator and worked with the local nurse and school teachers to give presentations on health and nutrition, as well as arts and crafts. Besides working in the village, once a month, I assisted another volunteer in teaching some children in a remote village where there was no formal schooling.
I received three months of language training in Tegucigalpa, as well as cross-cultural communications and nutrition classes. All the volunteers lived with Honduran host families to help us acculturate to our new setting and learn the language. We even attended language classes on Saturdays. Training was extremely stressful but also a wonderful time to meet other volunteers from all over the US. After passing the language exam and being sworn in, I was placed in San Jose de Copan. It was an impoverished village with dirt roads, no electricity or indoor plumbing. However, my village was better than most because past volunteers had worked there and implemented several projects. The history of collaboration between the Peace Corps and Josefinas (as the villagers were called) contributed to my success as a volunteer.
I continued working with an existing clothing cooperative, but provided more authentic designs to the products. I incorporated the Mayan Indian designs from the nearby ruins of Copan. In the past, volunteers have helped the villagers produce embroidered clothing with tourist motifs such as palm trees, setting suns, and hibiscus. I was able to improve on the design of the clothing by utilizing my degree. After I felt comfortable in my new setting, I started other artisan projects. There were several women who worked with different mediums: clay, seeds, guacales (gourds), and loofahs. It was such a great experience to work with these women and market their products.
During my two years’ service, I also made great friendships with the Honduran families in my village. I like to read literature and write poetry and was able to do both of these, as there was nothing to distract me. I wrote about the characters in the village. Even after I left Honduras, the images, smells, and music remain with me.
The Spanish language has stayed with me, as well. When I returned to the US, I was able to teach Spanish to pay for my graduate studies, as a teaching assistant. I received tuition remission and a stipend plus teaching experience at the college level! My professors were amazed! I had to take a few advanced grammar classes to professionalize my speech because the majority of my Spanish language interactions in the village were in the local dialect and not formal speech.
Fortunately, I’ve used Spanish as part of my work since that time. I became a bilingual elementary teacher and used my Spanish to educate children in East Los Angeles to become bi-literate. I also worked for an educational publisher that produced Spanish and English as a second language books and materials.
I didn’t realize what irreplaceable gifts I’d receive from serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer. The gift of interacting with a culture different from your own; the gift of learning a second language; and the gift of having served others! I first got interested in the Peace Corps when noticing a poster on the wall in my college. It said, “Peace Corps, the toughest job you’ll ever love!” They weren’t kidding around. It definitely is difficult on your health, your mental health, and your long distance relationships. Check out these links for more information:
In 1961, President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps to promote world peace and friendship. The Peace Corps’ mission has three simple goals:
- Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
- Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
- Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.
Sandra Annette Rogers