Not a single hand flew up in the air when Peace Corps recruiter Sherlene Ferguson asked a crowd of William & Mary students how many of them hadn’t heard, or didn’t know, about the Peace Corps.
Ferguson was pleased – albeit surprised – to learn that not one of the 40-plus students attending the information session was unfamiliar with the American volunteer program administrated by the U.S. Government.
Her surprise was unfounded. For the past ten years, William & Mary has been one of the top universities of its size to produce Peace Corps volunteers. In the latest rankings released by the Peace Corps, the College ranked eighth among medium schools with 37 alumni currently serving as volunteers around the world for the organization. See story for more details.
On Friday, William & Mary students had the chance to participate in a question-and-answer session with five Returned Peace Corps Volunteers – known as ‘RPCVs.’ The College was also honored with a plaque for its support of the Peace Corps over the last 50 years.
“We at the College of William & Mary are deeply proud of our long history as a leading source of Peace Corps volunteers,” Steve Hanson, vice provost for international affairs and director of the Reves Center for International Studies said in a statement. “Our returned Peace Corps volunteers are important members of the William & Mary international family, contributing in countless ways to the internationalization of our campus.”
MBA student Chad Chadbourn ’13 served in Costa Rica from 2006 to 2008 as a small business adviser. As part of the overseas program, all volunteers spend two years in developing countries providing technical assistance and helping to promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
On a typical day, Chadbourn worked in a high school teaching English and junior achievement classes on small business and personal finance. In the evenings, he taught English at a local bank. Through the high school, he was able to start a Scout Troop for children ages 8 to 13. In just two years, 60 kids were active in the troop, he said.
“This event is very important to me because part of my work still continues as I help fulfill the Peace Corps’s third goal which aims to help Americans understand the people and cultures of other countries,” said Chadbourn, who also serves as co-president of the Friends of Costa Rica group, an affiliate of the National Peace Corps Association.
The Reves Center’s Assistant Director for Study Abroad Operations, Molly DeStafney, had a different experience than most volunteers. She served in a city in Ukraine with a population of 500,000 teaching various subjects in English at a university.
Like Chadbourn, she also engaged the youth and participated in an English and film club in the evenings. During the summer months, she worked as an aid for local camps.
“You have to be really self motivated to be successful,” said MBA student Sandy Halasz ’13, who served in Senegal from 2006 to 2008. “After you get your training, it’s up to you to make it what you want.”
Associate Business Professor Scott McCoy and MBA student Charlie Seltzer ’13 spoke about their work in the Dominican Republic. Both RPCVs worked with small business owners to help them gain access to loans.
Founded in March 1961 by the Kennedy Administration to promote world peace and friendship, the Peace Corps is known for providing a meaningful work and educational experience for volunteers. But it’s not the easiest task, said the panelists, and all five agreed community integration was the biggest challenge.
“You don’t realize the challenges because most people go to Costa Rica on a school trip or on vacation with your family, whereas in the Peace Corps you’re there as a volunteer making the stipend of what someone in the local community makes,” said Chadbourn. “And you’re eating rice and beans three times a day. That’s your daily life.”
It’s a life –and a calling – William & Mary students continue to answer through their desire to serve.