A “Peace Corps” of mind

I can play out the rest of my life from the time it takes to walk from the Lee Drain Building to the Houstonian newsroom.

I will graduate in May with a bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication, and then spend the summer gallivanting around Houston.

In August, after a festive and tearful goodbye party with family and friends, I will move to South America and begin my work as a Peace Corps volunteer. By this time next year, I’ll be helping a small, Amazonian tribe raise guinea pigs for food or teaching English to a new generation of Guatemalans.

After two years, I’ll return home with a whole new set of skills and, more importantly, a new outlook on life.

While standing in Terminal E at Bush Intercontinental Airport , I’ll run into Michael Phelps. We’ll fall in love and get married. National Geographic will hire me as a writer, and I’ll live happily ever after.

If only it were that easy.

I started looking into the Peace Corps about two years ago as a doe-eyed sophomore. I fell in love with the idea of traveling to another part of the world to help people and experience another culture. After doing some research, I discovered there were more benefits, such as health insurance and a $6,000 stipend.

I was sold.

Some people tend to think of Peace Corps volunteers as hippie, tree-hugging liberal idealists. They might conjure up an image of a college student with shaggy, unkempt hair wearing a tie-dyed T-shirt and brown Birkenstock sandals.

This view, while not entirely accurate, has its roots in the early 1960s, when John F. Kennedy popularized the Peace Corps during his presidency. You’re probably familiar with Kennedy’s “Ask not” speech, but you probably didn’t know he was referring to the Peace Corps when he said it.

The Corps met its fair share of criticism: most people thought it would only appeal to inexperienced, freeloving college students and give them the opportunity to dodge the draft. Thus the hippie stereotype.

But the Peace Corps came out on top. Since the 1960s, roughly 200,000 volunteers have served in 139 countries in a variety of areas, including education, business development, the environment, health and technology.

Applying to the Peace Corps is a multi-step process. I’m currently on Step One of about 50. I’ll be dealing with an online application, references, essays, interviews, medical clearances and nominations for the next year of my life. And if I am invited to serve, I’ll spend the first three months of my 27-month term in training.

Rest assured, I’m not putting all my eggs in the Peace Corps basket. I’m also applying to graduate school, various journalism fellowships and AmeriCorps – the Peace Corps’s domestic counterpart.

AmeriCorps is comprised of three programs, which all focus on community development and fighting poverty in America. The programs depend on availability education level. AmeriCorps also has its benefits: you can receive a $4,500 education award and like the Peace Corps, priceless life skills.

I think about the Peace Corps and my post-graduation plans constantly – in between classes, at work and before I got to sleep. I’ve called on friends, family and faculty for advice more times than I can count.

I graduate in about eight months and, I know there’s no way to know how my life will play out.

I do know one thing, however. Whether I’m settling down with an Olympic hero, working for a community newspaper or helping a small, impoverished South American country reach its potential, I know I’ll have the unconditional support of my friends and family.

Leave a Reply