There are currently 53 UC Davis alumni serving in the Peace Corps, making the university 14th in the nation for Peace Corps participation. The number has increased since last year, when UC Davis was ranked 21.
Last Thursday, approximately 40 students attended an informational meeting to learn how to continue UC Davis‘ commitment to service.
The meeting outlined the benefits of becoming a volunteer, as well as how to apply for the program. Attendees asked questions and listened to testimonies from past volunteers at the 4 p.m. meeting in the Smith room of the Memorial Union.
“You don’t have to go straight onto the career track when you graduate,” said Erica Chernoh, Peace Corps recruiter and graduate student at UC Davis. “The Peace Corps is a great opportunity to attain tangible skills and open your eyes to a different culture. There aren’t too many entry level jobs that give you that.“
The Peace Corps is a government-sponsored agency established in 1960 to respond to international issues and enhance U.S. reputation. Volunteers do not have to pay to participate and receive a $6,000 living allowance for their 27 months of service and training. During that time, volunteers will provide technical and social assistance in one of more than 70 participating countries.
For the most part, the Peace Corps is a competitive program, accepting approximately 33 percent of applicants, according to Peace Corps officials. However, applicants‘ chances of getting accepted depend on their skills and education. Knowing a second language, for example, increases an applicant’s chance of getting accepted, Chernoh said.
The time and effort required to apply sometimes discourages those interested from completely finishing the nine to 12 month process. Applicants must complete an online application, write two essays, attain three letters of recommendation, give a campus interview and get a nomination for another interview in D.C. followed by an extensive background and health check. Once the applicant completes this process, they may receive an invitation, which will tell them the possible location of their 27-month term abroad.
“It’s a long time commitment, but time really flies,” said Chernoh, who worked as an agricultural volunteer with the Peace Corps in Guatemala from 1999 to 2000. “Once you start making an impact, you just think, ‘This job is so perfect.‘”
In addition to helping farmers increase their income through more sustainable farming techniques, Chernoh also started a jelly-making business for the women in her village, organized public health seminars and arranged various business advising sessions for her community.
Volunteers can also apply for other areas of assistance, such as health and HIV/AIDS work, business and information communication technology, environmental service, education or youth and community development.
Danielle Knueppel served as an agricultural volunteer in Tanzania from 2001 to 2003 and also gave a testimony of her experiences in Thursday’s meeting.
“I got to live in a house made of bricks and get my water from a well nearby,” said Knueppel, who is receiving her masters in international agricultural development at UC Davis. “The culture was so opposite to the one I was used to. It was hard to adapt to initially, but getting to know that culture was one of my favorite parts.“
Knueppel learned Swahili during her time in Tanzania. She was taught seminars about sustainable agriculture to the community, in addition to helping start a library, leading a girl’s empowerment clinic and teaching nutrition.
When she visited the village last year, she found that many of the farmers were still using the practices she taught them.
The meeting lasted approximately an hour, and the students who attended asked questions mostly about the language requirements for the various programs.
“I was hesitant to apply because I thought the cultural divide would be too strong,” said David Lavine, a junior nutrition major who attended the meeting. “But hearing from people who lived in those different cultures helped me realize that it isn’t like that.“
Chernoh is available by e-mail, or for her office hours, to discuss all matters concerning the Peace Corps. For more information, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
LAUREN STEUSSY can be reached at email@example.com.