After graduation, Vassar students scatter in all different directions. Some begin careers, some continue their educations in graduate school and some do a bit of soul-searching.
Some Vassar graduates choose to enter the Peace Corps, an organization run by the U.S. government that aims to promote worldwide cooperation, health, education and understanding of different cultures. Many Vassar alumnae/i have found their paths through the Peace Corps organization.
Deciding to apply to the Peace Corps is a commitment. The application lasts six to nine months. Once accepted, a volunteer enters a two-year service contract. Those desiring to keep volunteering, can re-enlist after the their contract, or otherwise return home.
Former Vassar students who have joined Peace Corps have, since graduation, garnered a set of different experiences. The Peace Corps sends volunteers all around the world to serve the global population in a number of ways.
For example, Peter Satin ’10, started his service in Honduras and spent 11 months there before the post was shut down. Beginning Feb. 2011 , he served as a health educator with focus on maternal health and HIV/AIDS prevention. Satin held support groups for those who were HIV-positive as well as classes on prevention and general health.
While there, he was a part of an international workshop on family health topics for those affected by HIV. Participants from all over Central America took part and many soon incorporated the group’s activities into their work.
Peter decided to re-enlist and ended up in Cambodia, where he is currently focused on water and sanitation, noncommunicable diseases and young adult health. Since he has been there, he has written a curriculum for water, sanitation and hygiene for Peace Corps volunteers to use, and it has become the basis for training in Cambodia. Non-governmental organizations in Pakistan and India have also incorporated it.
Hannah Beswick’s ’09 international studies major at Vassar led her to Peace Corps because of her interest in foreign cultures. From 2010 to 2012 she served in rural Morocco as a Youth Development volunteer. While there, she did a wide variety of things to help the community in which she was stationed.
The project, however, she considers to be her most successful and rewarding was a six-month health initiative that she ran for the women of the town. Through this, she was able to introduce women to various health topics by bringing in experts from neighboring towns and encouraging both exercise and interactions amongst the women.
Another Vassar alumna, Claire Mocha ’09, began serving as a Healthy Schools volunteer in Guatemala six months after graduating from Vassar. This job involved working with teachers in rural schools to develop lesson plans and helping them with activities to promote healthy habits to students.
From 2002 to 2004, Josh Morton ’01 was stationed in Kyrgyzstan, a former Soviet republic. There he taught English to students at a high school and wrote project grants to improve the school’s infrastructure. The place in which Morton lived was closed to foreigners until the year before he arrived because the lake off of the peninsula was the primary place where Soviet nuclear submarine technology was tested.
Many of these volunteers had to learn to adapt to their new locations; the Peace Corps prepares volunteers by helping them learn the language spoken within the community and training them for what they can expect once there.
After the training period, however, volunteers are essentially on their own, and in some cases volunteers’ success is completely dependent on their own independent work ethic and their ability to build relationships with the locals.
According to Morton, when it comes down to it, Peace Corps is undeniably difficult, more difficult than anyone can probably imagine without doing it. It’s a challenge that some are cut out for and some are not.
Morton said that about 30 percent of his group went home before the two-year contract was up for a variety of reasons.
Satin noted what kind of person would be best suited for an experience with the Peace Corps. In an emailed statement he wrote, “If you’re the kind of person that likes challenges, can handle being confused a majority of the time, and doesn’t mind being alone, you might do well in the Peace Corps. Or you might not. It’s hard to say.”
Peace Corps requires a level of flexibility. One must be willing to adapt to unfamiliar perspectives, cultures, lifestyles and challenges. Often, it requires learning on the go and being able to navigate through uncomfortable situations.
But, according to Morton, the experience can be rewarding one. Morton values the lifetime friends and memories he’s made because of Peace Corps and realizes that his experience permanently changed the way he views and lives life.
In an emailed statement he wrote, “I don’t think a lot of people are aware of how much of the experience is actually internal, and that the volunteer changes and grows as much as, if not more than, the host country in which he or she is trying to effect positive change.”
For Mocha Peace Corps was an opportunity to find an unexpected place to feel at home. She had such a positive Peace Corps experience that she still lives in Guatemala even though she finished with Peace Corps almost two years ago.
On her experience with voolunteering, Mocha wrote in an emailed statement, “Peace Corps is not easy, and it’s not for everyone—you need to be able to depend on yourself, keep yourself busy, and keep an open mind. The people I knew who really thrived were those who could create their own structure, keep themselves occupied, and keep a sense of humor and curiosity.”
She continued, noting a positive part of the Peace Corps experience overall, “Ultimately, most people I knew found it an incredibly rewarding experience and learned a ton about themselves and the world around them.”
For those potentially interested in joining Peace Corps, there will be an information session on Thursday, Nov. 7 hosted by the Peace Corps’s regional recruiter Douglas Miller.