While some students may enter the corporate world or go on to graduate school after college, others opt for a different journey. Choosing philanthropy and travel over offices and meetings, Weihow Hsue decided to join the Peace Corps upon graduation from UC Davis.
After his junior year, Hsue said he started thinking about graduation.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do, I thought that an internship abroad would be cool,” said Hsue, a graduating senior evolution, ecology and biodiversity major.
Hsue went to the UC Davis Internship and Career Center’s website and was attracted to the Peace Corps‘ advertisements.
Hsue submitted his application in mid-October, and was then asked for an interview in November.
“Then you get nominated [and] you’re considered a volunteer,” he said.
Hsue then had to have a medical evaluation, get vaccinations and complete paperwork.
“Three or four months before you are assigned to a country, they look over your application again, and then they send an invitation asking you to be an official volunteer. I didn’t find out where I was going until April,” Hsue said
Hsue will go to Benin, a small country on the west coast of Africa. When Hsue was assigned to Benin, he had to look it up on Wikipedia.
“I didn’t even know where the country was,” Hsue said. “You are assigned according to what [kind of help] the country you’re visiting needs.“
Founded in 1960, the Peace Corps‘ roots trace back to then-senator John F. Kennedy’s challenge to students at the University of Michigan to serve their country by working for peace by living and working in developing countries according to its website.
“From that inspiration grew an agency of the federal government devoted to world peace and friendship,” according the website.
Approximately 190,000 volunteers have served in the Peace Corps since it was created, with over 8,000 currently serving according to a Peace Corps fact sheet. The Peace Corps has aided 139 countries since it was created.
Nathan Hale Sargent, the Peace Corps public affairs specialist for Northern California, said the Peace Corps is a wonderful opportunity for students to start a career, especially those with an international focus.
The Peace Corps offers benefits such as student loan deferment, language training, a living allowance and medical care.
Students interested in joining the Peace Corps must have a bachelor’s degree by the time they will be volunteers. Scott Dietrich, the UC Davis campus representative for the Peace Corps, suggested that seniors should apply in October, as they will not get an official assignment until April.
The Peace Corps offers six different fields of work– education, health and HIV, business development, environment, youth and agriculture.
Hsue will work in Benin as an environmental volunteer, and will stay there for 27 months.
The Peace Corps gives volunteers training, and then they are sent to the village where they will be working. “You usually start out with 55 volunteers and go through training [with them],” Hsue said. “Then you are on your own.“
“There may be two other volunteers in the village, but they would be working on different projects,“ said Dietrich, who volunteered for the Peace Corps in Paraguay when he was an undergraduate at UC San Diego.
Participants sign up to volunteer realizing that the weather is going to be different than what they are used to and they may not have access to running water or electricity, but the reward of overcoming the difficulties of helping people from another culture will be worth the effort, Dietrich said.
“The things that are the most difficult [about volunteering] are the cultural things, they don’t understand your perspective, and it takes time to understand theirs,” Dietrich said.
Hsue is looking forward to learning more about a different culture and trying to make changes on the individual level, rather than attempting to make big changes.
“I was looking forward to a personal sort of feel on an international level,” Hsue said.
Hsue will leave for Benin in July, after visiting his friends and family in Taiwan.
Dietrich offered advice for possible Peace Corps participants.
“Bring photographs of your family,” he said. “Usually you are working with a very family-based culture where the children don’t go far away for college. If you have photographs of your family, they know that you are a real person with connections.“
“Also, bring a digital camera. You can take pictures of them and then show them the photograph, they love that. But don’t take pictures if it’s [culturally] taboo,“ he said.
For more information contact the Peace Corps at peacecorps.gov or call Scott Dietrich at 752-8234.
MEGAN ELLIS can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.