See yourself in Peace Corps? Preparation is key

Leah Cirelli

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UNF students thinking about a stint in the Peace Corps have lots to consider. Can they wash their own clothes by hand? Bathe in a stream? Walk 90 minutes to work each day?

Jacksonville beach local, Amanda Clark, who is a recently returned Peace Corps volunteer, says that preparation is key to success in the program. She went through all that, and more. 

The Peace Corps, founded in 1961, aims to promote world peace through the work of its volunteers. Volunteers can choose a sector in which to serve. Sectors include agriculture, education, health, community economic development, environment and youth in development.

The Peace Corps is not an average volunteer job at the local soup kitchen. Being a volunteer requires commitment, training, and time. 

Clark, who volunteered 12 months in Swaziland, shares serious advice for those considering joining the program. “Make sure you understand all the difficulties you may experience if that is the route you take,” Clark commented. “I heard so many stories of families who stole volunteers’ food or begged them for food and even stories of one family beating a child with a two by four in front of the volunteer. So really…think about it. Can you handle that?”

The Peace Corps provides benefits for those who decide to commit their time and energy to the program. The program provides housing, traveling costs and medical care. There are financial benefits that come with a two-year service. Ten-thousand dollars is awarded to those who complete two years service with the Peace Corps, to help transition back to their home life. 

“In Peace Corps Response, it’s exactly like holding a job overseas,” says Clark. “I worked five days a week. Monday through Friday in an office. Sometimes I had to come into work on Saturdays too. 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. I walked to work every day and walked home. On the weekend I would walk an hour and a half to take the bus into the nearest town, where I did my shopping and had lunch before going home. I hand-washed all my laundry, cleaned my house and helped my neighbors on the weekends, too.”

Students who are considering joining can enroll in UNF’s Peace Corps Prep Program. The program, that started in 2017, works in partnership with the Peace Corps to better prepare students for international volunteer work. With the completion of the program comes a Peace Corps certificate, which gives applicants an edge-up against others. 

UNF’s Peace Corps Prep program advisor, Payton Cantrell, says it takes a very special person to go into the Peace Corps and that it’s not recommended for everyone. 

The prep program requirements include 50 hours of volunteer work in the chosen sector field, three courses in the chosen sector and a leadership project. The prep program is complementary to your degree, meaning if you are a nursing student, there are recommended health programs that apply to both your degree and to the program.  

Cantrell likes to further prepare students in the program by showing them testimonial videos from the Peace Corps website, but also by showing YouTube videos from volunteers’ first-hand experience. Cantrell reminds students that the Peace Corps is a government program, so they have an image that they want to keep. 

However, someone who is looking to challenge themselves can still join the prep program, even without the desire to join the Peace Corps. A Peace Corp Prep program certificate is a pretty good addition to anyone’s resume. 

Cantrell, along with a Peace Corps representative, can often be found at Market Days at UNF for more information. 

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