It seems that the spirit of giving back runs in the blood of UC Davis students. According to the 2014 Peace Corps rankings of top volunteer-producing universities across the nation, UC Davis ranked No. 19 among large schools, and currently has 41 alumni serving worldwide. For the past 12 years, UC Davis has made the top-25 rankings among large schools.
There are numerous obvious reasons for graduates to join the Peace Corps: all-expenses paid travel, the once-in-a-lifetime experience, professional development, resume building and academic and professional opportunities such as the Returned Volunteer network.
“We interview and send 25 to 30 volunteers abroad, straight from campus,” said Daniel Quinn, the UC Davis campus recruiter. “The interest in international work and in the Peace Corps has been rising, and we’re always getting more applications than ever before.”
The high number of UC Davis volunteers can be attributed to a service-oriented, globally-minded student body, according to Lorry Marvin, the Sacramento Peace Corps recruiter.
“There is also a great international student population at UC Davis, which helps expose all students to a variety of ideas, cultures and languages,” Marvin said. “That helps students see that the world is a very diverse, immensely interesting place.”
To find out what sets the Peace Corps apart from other post graduation options, The Aggie sat down with Gabriel LaHue, returned volunteer and UC Davis graduate student in international agricultural development, to hear some of the lesser known aspects of volunteering.
According to LaHue, students should apply for the Peace Corps nine to 12 months before they actually hope to leave. There are various components of the application process that need to be completed before they receive an invitation to go. They also won’t know where they’re going until they receive the invitation, which will be a few months before their departure date.
LaHue ventured to Paraguay after completing his undergraduate degree in plant science at Cornell University. The Santa Cruz native said that he’d been planning to join the Peace Corps since high school, when his cousin joined the service.
His cousin didn’t end up going abroad due to a strong reaction to an antimalarial drug that he needed to take for his planned trip to Nepal. He was medically separated from the Peace Corps while attending the three-month pre-departure training, which is an additional three months not included in the planned two years of service.
Applicants are matched to countries based on their skill sets. UC Davis has had a huge number of Peace Corps volunteers in agricultural projects compared to other universities, according to Quinn.
Globally, only four percent of volunteers work in agriculture-related projects, while at UC Davis over a quarter of applicants go into agriculture. Education and health care are other popular areas of service.
LaHue said that the village that he stayed in had an incredibly open and generous culture. People were polite, and “are you happy” was a more common question than “how are you.” They based their choice of activities on how happy they made them, and LaHue said that people would leave jobs because they weren’t happy in them, a contrast to what it seems the typical American would do. Their happiness was based mainly on social collateral.
This cultural difference led to some accountability issues, however.
“If they didn’t want to do something, they’d say ‘another day,’” LaHue said. “They had these polite ways of saying no, but I didn’t realize that at first.”
LaHue said that as a volunteer he had to learn to roll with the punches, and not be too worried about what didn’t get done.
“If it rains when you have a big event planned, everything is canceled,” LaHue said. “If it rains and the roads are terrible, you’re stuck.”
One of the goals of the Peace Corps is to help volunteers appreciate the culture of their host country, and in turn to have the citizens of that country appreciate the country of their volunteer.
LaHue said that at the beginning of their time, volunteers can get frustrated because they have an ideal of how everything should be going, and want a more concrete job description. They’ll say that they’re bored or don’t have any work to do, but LaHue said that he always felt really busy because he didn’t wait for things to come to him.
“The first year, you learn a lot more than you’re giving back,” LaHue said. “The second year, you give a lot more back.”
LaHue also said that whether a person wishing they could stay a third year, like he was, or happy to go home, depends largely on the relationship they form with the people in the area.
LaHue lived in a tiny village of only 150 people, most of whom spoke a mix of Spanish and the indigenous language, Guarani. The village was mostly a small family, with only probably two families out of 25 that weren’t related by blood.
LaHue said that the most important thing that he did at the beginning of his trip was to spend time working with the villagers, trying to build relationships with them.
“The day that I left was one of the hardest days of my life,” LaHue said.
TAYLOR CUNNINGHAM can be reached at email@example.com.
Photo by Rosa Furneaux.