Peace Corps volunteer shares lessons learned

While many college students decide to go on to graduate school or enter the workforce after graduation, a handful decide to join the Peace Corps, a government agency dedicated to promoting peace and friendship throughout 139 countries. Since its establishment in the 1960s by Executive Order 10924, the Peace Corps has sent over 190,000 volunteers around the world in an attempt to help developing countries meet their need for trained workers. Last Tuesday, returned Peace Corps volunteer Kyle Jessop spoke to several interested students, encouraging them to consider the Peace Corps as an option after graduation.

Jessop graduated as a manufacturing engineer and worked as an industrial engineer for several years before joining the Peace Corps. His first assignment was in Lesotho, a land-locked country surrounded by the Republic of South Africa. His first project, which involved hospital maintenance, incorporated aspects of his engineering degree.

As a volunteer, Jessop had to adjust to different cultures, languages and traditions.“My [work] day did not involve the typical 9-to-5 day that is found here, so I really had to adjust,” Jessop said.

“One of the most important lessons I learned during my first assignment is to allow people to take ownership of ideas and to learn how to do things themselves. Often, people from different cultures will come in and show [developing] countries the right way to plant corn, for example…the next year, foreigners from a different country will come in and show the developing country a different way to plant corn. This creates a dependency on the foreigner to help the community,” Jessop said.

“When you just give someone something, they won’t take care of it. They don’t care if it breaks. It’s better to drop hints and ideas and have them gain ownership of the idea,” Jessop said.

By the end of his assignment, Jessop decided to extend his service in Zambia. There, he taught blind and deaf children farming techniques.

In collaboration with Tech’s Think Green Week, Jessop discussed the environmental initiatives the Peace Corps offers. Environmental projects range from water resources and engineering to applied agriculture science.

Interested volunteers go through a long application process. If qualified, volunteers are assigned to projects in developing countries. Volunteers serve a minimum of 27 months on a project and a maximum of 6 years

Health, safety and security are always a top priority, and volunteers are never sent anywhere politically unsafe. In case of political unrest, volunteers are usually cleared out of the country within 24 hours. Volunteers can also take several steps to ensure their own safety.

“Having the knowledge of the language and culture separates you from being a tourist…by understanding the culture, you’re telling the people around you that you know what is right and wrong,” Jessop said.

Volunteers returning from their 27-month service will find ample resources to help them reintegrate into society. Returning Peace Corps volunteers have the option of going to graduate school, finding a job or recruiting members into the Peace Corps by traveling around the country and speaking of their experiences. Along with the benefit of experiencing life in a different country, volunteers gain health benefits, federal retirement and can even earn college credit for their Peace Corps Service.

“It’s one of those opportunities in life which really opens up your eyes to big concerns in the world…a commonality I found among returning volunteers is that the Peace Corps gives you a direction in life,” Jessop said.

For more information about the Peace Corps, projects, volunteers’ accounts or environmental initiatives, visit www.peacecorps.gov.