Why join the Peace Corps?

You joined the Peace Corps? Why on earth did you do that? What made you want to do it? You do know you dont get paid to do this right?

These are some of the various questions I get asked when I tell people my decision. Usually, when someone asks me “Why did you join the Peace Corps?” I respond with a simple “Why not?” and that usually shuts them right up. But for those of you who are genuinly interested in my decision, here is my motivational statement, my cross cultural essay, and my aspiration statement. All of these are essays I had to turn in to the Peace Corps to convince them that my motives are true and I am serious about doing this.

My Motivational Statement Essay:

For as long as I can remember I have had a list of life goals-and each time I reached a goal I would cross it off my list. When I was a senior in high school, I made a list of things I wanted to accomplish by the time I was 25. The list included things like skydiving and taking a cross country road trip, also on the list was to serve in the Peace Corps. At the time, 25 seemed like a lifetime away, but as I get closer to that age, the Peace Corps remains on my list.

                As I have grown up, my goal of serving in the Peace Corps has remained the same, but the reasons have changed as much as I have. When I made my list, I included the Peace Corps because it provided me with something that nothing else in my life did at that time: a chance to go out and do something crazy! I envisioned myself living somewhere exotic where I could learn to speak another language and meet new and exciting people.

                Now, however, I want to serve in the Peace Corps for more serious reasons. First and foremost, I want to help people. The Peace Corps offers their volunteers the chance to dig in with people who are truly in need, and make a real tangible difference in their lives. I also want to learn to see the world from a new perspective, and share my perspective with those I’m serving. In this world of conflict, I believe that oftentimes the best way to achieve peace is to try to look at the situation from many different points of view. I feel like in the Peace Corps, volunteers get a very unique chance to do so.

                I want to go and discover other cultures and really immerse myself in another way of life. I want to meet people who can enrich my life at the same time I am working to enrich theirs through the service the Peace Corps provides. I want to show people that not all Americans are how they are portrayed on reality TV shows. And I want to learn to truly understand people – by living and communicating with them, not just listening to the news stories. I want the opportunity to go out and make a real difference and impact our world, no matter how big or small my part will play. I will become a better person through my two years of service and hopefully it will inspire someone else to do something exciting and challenging in their life to serve a bigger cause.

                I think the most challenging part of serving in the Peace Corps will be to build trust with the local people. Trust is the hardest thing to build and once it is lost, I don’t believe it can ever be fully regained. I think the only way to really build trusting relationships and build confidence with my host community will be to show them and their culture the respect it deserves and to completely embrace and throw myself in to their way of life with no preconceived notions about how things should be.

                I know that serving in the Peace Corps won’t be easy. I know that I will run into difficulties and hard times. But I also know that whatever I face will be worth it. Getting the opportunity to live with, learn from, and serve people in need is one of the greatest privileges I can imagine, and I am up for the challenge.

My Cross Cultural Experience Essay:

This past 4th of July was one of the most memorable and enjoyable of my life. While most of my friends spent Independence Day on a lake with burgers and beer, I had the unique chance to celebrate America’s birthday with Tizzianna and Sisto – a middle-aged traditional Italian couple in northern Italy.

                I was visiting my sister at Aviano Air Base. As the 4th approached, her neighbors Tizzianna and Sisto invited us to spend the evening with them. I had no idea what to expect when we agreed to have dinner and “see the fire” (watch the fireworks) with them. So that evening, I was invited to their lovely home and over homemade pizza and Sisto’s homemade wine and grappa, I truly got to experience a piece of Italian culture that not many who visit this beautiful country have the chance to.

                During dinner, it was a challenge to communicate with Sisto and Tizzianna, who spoke very basic broken English. My sister only speaks very basic Italian, so it was a struggle for me (I speak no Italian) to keep up with what was going on. But by the end of dinner, it got easier to understand what they were trying to express by paying attention to their facial expressions, tone, and body and hand movements. It was wonderful to learn a new way to communicate.  And I was so touched that Sisto and Tizzianna would try so hard to communicate with me – it made me feel guilty for failing to understand their culture and language more.

                Sisto and Tizzianna described their most recent trip to America. They expressed their sadness of our 9/11 tragedy, their dislike for New York City cab drivers, and how they spent hours trying to open their hotel room door with a card key because no one explained to them how it worked. I was amazed at how much we take for granted, and concerned about the impression that America sometimes leaves on people visiting our country. It made Sisto and Tizzianna’s desire to communicate with me even more humbling.   

                After dinner, it was time to view the fireworks. Sisto waters corn for a living and so he picked out a great spot in one of his fields for us to watch the fireworks display at Aviano Air Base. We all loaded in his jeep and he drove us on back roads to a great spot in the middle of a corn field. After the last firework had been fired off, we all expressed what a great show the Air Base put on, when we heard “America, the beautiful” being played over the loudspeaker. I had never been as proud of my country as I was then; standing in a cornfield in Italy with two of the most humble and accepting people I have ever met. They paid great respect to our holiday and taught me to be more grateful for the freedoms and blessings we have as Americans. It was by far, the best 4th of July holiday I have ever had.

                My trip exposed me to people like Sisto and Tizzianna, who accepted me without question and showed no resentment towards me, but this was not the case for my entire time in Italy. It was a challenge not to take it personally when I was yelled at for not understanding what someone was saying or for not abiding by some unspoken custom that I was unaware of. I know the only way for me to overcome these issues would be to spend time with people willing to teach me and to keep my eyes and mind open to everything I could take with me and learn from.

My Aspiration Statement for Fiji

  1. A.    The professional attributes you plan to use, and what aspirations you plan to fulfill, during your Peace Corps service.

I hope to use my optimistic, can-do attitude to help get things planned and organized, and my grit and hard work ethic to keep things running smoothly. I will bring my experience working in health promotion programs, and my familiarity organizing and implementing wellness programs. I hope to offer a fresh perspective to existing programs. My aspirations are realistic in terms of understanding that any change may be slow and difficult to achieve. In this sense, I understand that my contributions to the organization may be slow to come to completion. For this reason, I am eager to try to contribute in other ways, through secondary projects within my community that may help boost my status, by developing close friendships within my community and by offering my knowledge through casual conversation. There is no doubt that I will experience great joy in learning about things very different from what I am used to, things which defy my American conventions. I also hope I do well representing my country during my time in Fiji, even though my presence will be mostly insignificant and in passing.   

 

  1. B.     Your strategies for working effectively with host country partners to meet expressed needs.

After reading the assignment description and talking with other returned volunteers, I think the most important strategy will simply be patience and adapting to a slower pace of life.  It is so important to build trust and make connections with co-workers and by doing that, I hope to gain respect and hopefully their willingness to listen and consider what I have to say. I also realize that trying to instantly achieve change will be futile and insulting to the people who have been working in these organizations for years. As a foreigner from a hugely misinterpreted country, I will be faced with breaking down any stereotypes present and forming open and honest connections with those in my community. I believe offering support to already existing programs or ideas of those already working in Health Promotion programs will be my most effective means of getting things done, that way, after my two years if service is over and I leave, the host country partners will continue carrying on their own programs that I helped bring to completion.

  1. C.    Your strategies for adapting to a new culture with respect to your own cultural background.

I grew up in a small community, but as a member of a large family. This taught me early on to be welcoming and non-judgmental to everyone. I automatically try to befriend everyone I come across and I was taught to respect and learn from our differences. I fully intend to use every opportunity to learn from the challenges I encounter and to take advantage of my communities’ hospitality to learn as much about the Fijian lifestyle as possible, without possessing any prejudices.

 

  1. D.    The skills and knowledge you hope to gain during pre-service training to best serve your future community and project.

During pre-service training, I hope to discover as much about Fijian culture as possible. I hope to learn about their civilization, their language, and their history so that I may better understand certain customs or beliefs they have.  I would hate to offend my host family or my host community by not abiding by some unspoken custom that was unknown to me.  So, hopefully I can get as much out my training as I put in.  I think the most important part will be to learn to speak the language, because I believe me knowing that fundamental part of their culture will help me integrate faster and stronger. Also, if I show that I am truly working hard to learn the language, hopefully everyone will be more understanding with me when I do mess up. 

 

  1. E.     How you think Peace Corps service will influence your personal and professional aspirations after your service ends.

Living life as a Peace Corps volunteer will make me a stronger and more confident person. I will know my limits and what I can handle. I will be more culturally sensitive and be more open to new ideas and ways of thinking outside the box. I will have higher levels of patience and understanding. And above all, I will be proud of the person that I am; the person Peace Corp service made me.

After my service in Fiji, I plan to obtain my masters in Nutrition and then proceed to take the national Registered Dietitians Exam. My ultimate goal is to work as a team dietitian for a professional sports organization.   

Responses

  1. What do you do in Fiji? Do you teach or are you involved in another project?

  2. Alicia-
    Can we talk sometime? I am currently applying to be a PCV and I found your blog to be incredible and your motivation to be so similar to mine. Besides, you quoted Alexander Supertramp, and It just doesn’t get much better that that. cory bolton
    303-720-5216

  3. Hi Alicia,

    I am currently in the process of applying to be a PCV and was wondering if you could answer a question for me. As you were applying and writing your responses/essays to these prompts, did you rely solely on self-reflection and answering them on your own or did you ask family and friends for advice along the way?

    Thanks in advance for any feedback!


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