Work with Peace Corps and change your life, director says in Gainesville
Published: Monday, February 10, 2014 at 3:57 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, February 10, 2014 at 3:57 p.m.
A two-year commitment to service can turn into a lifetime's worth of stories that not even the pictures can fully capture.
That was the message Carrie Hessler-Radelet, Peace Corps acting director, delivered Monday during a visit to the University of Florida to speak to students about how the Peace Corps can enhance their lives and future careers.
“As a Peace Corps volunteer, you never really know what your impact is going to be,” she said. “It is a life-changing experience for both you and your community. Most volunteers will say they got more than they gave, but every single one of us gave more than we realize.”
Hessler-Radelet, who comes from four generations of Peace Corps volunteers, said UF has been one of the organization's most valued partners and Gainesville is home to one of the most active recruiting locations.
“There is a trail of Gator fans that crosses the world,” she said. “Right now, University of Florida alumni are teaching Nepalese farmers how to improve their crop fields.”
UF has consistently been ranked as one of the top colleges and universities in the country for Peace Corps undergraduate and graduate school recruits. In 2013, UF tied for the top spot in the nation with the University of Washington.
David Sammons, former dean of UF's International Center, said that more than 1,200 UF alumni have served as volunteers. He served in the Philippines and worked in elementary science education, mainly doing teacher training.
Despite UF's cut of the Peace Corps' recruiting staff in 2012 due to budget and contract conflicts, the Peace Corps' North Florida field-based recruiter Chad Chernet still makes frequent appearances on campus to help students with the application process.
Chernet said he has made a commitment to visit campus at least once a month and will be back on March 20 at the College of Journalism and Communications.
“Either it solidifies what it is you thought you wanted to do or it opens your eyes to so many other possibilities,” Chernet said of the opportunity to serve.
The event was filled with stories of hard work and times of personal revelation, as Hessler-Radelet recalled her time with her host family in the Pacific, helping her host mother receive the proper prenatal care that saved her life.
She said the woman became the first in her family to deliver a baby at a health care center.
“I learned that day how important it is to have access to health care,” Hessler-Radelet said. “There are so many cultural barriers that inhibit people from getting the care that they need, even if on the map it is one mile away.”
Current UF students spoke of their experience in the Peace Corps and how it has helped them transition from undergraduate to graduate school.
“It'll be tough, but I would have never traded it for the world,” said Trent Blare, a food and resource economics graduate student.
Despite the testaments of the hard work the Peace Corps required, potential volunteers were assured that they will be fully trained and taken care of before being sent to a host county.
The Peace Corps has recently invested millions to build training programs, Hessler-Radelet said.
“Once you're accepted into the Peace Corps, we cover all of your costs,” she said. “Once you're in we pay for all medical care, training and transportation. Every year you work you get an adjusted allowance. It's basically a built-in savings account you can use for your next step. You can go to grad school, buy a car, travel the world.”
Each speaker spoke from experience, testifying to the benefits of working in both tight-knit groups — their fellow Peace Corps volunteers as well as their host communities.
“There are going to be moments where you think, 'What have I done?' And then there are going to be moments of incredible joy and by the time you leave you will have such an incredible bond with the community you are in that you could not imagine it happening anywhere else,” Hessler-Radelet said.
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