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Ohio State Peace Corps volunteers to begin journey of ‘impact’

A participant makes a sign in preparation for an event to celebrate the completion of the first stage of their international journey. Credit: Courtesy of Holly Miller

A participant makes a sign in preparation for an event to celebrate the completion of the first stage of their international journey.
Credit: Courtesy of Holly Miller

Some Ohio State students are set to be recognized before heading off to work on service projects around the world.

On Monday, approximately 40 Peace Corps nominees are set to celebrate the completion of the first stage of their international journey at a reception held at Hitchcock Hall from 7 to 8:30 p.m., Jack Campbell, a returned Peace Corps volunteer and OSU Peace Corps campus recruiter, said.

“(The reception) is celebrating a couple of different things, but all things Peace Corps,” said Brittany Baker, a seventh-year in environment and natural resources.

The Peace Corps is a U.S. Government service organization that sets Americans up with work sites and projects in other countries. The minimum age to join is 18, and currently about 7,200 volunteers and trainees are in the program, with 65 host countries involved.

Volunteers typically serve for two years after training and are provided with a housing and living stipend through the program, as well as complete dental and medical care during service and the cost of travel to and from the country, according to the Peace Corps website.

Some types of federal student loans are also eligible for partial cancellation benefits or deferments through the program, and after returning, the program provides $7,425 before taxes to help volunteers transition back into everyday life.

Baker, the current president of the OSU Peace Corps Club, said part of the celebration is set to honor this year’s Peace Corps nominees.

The reception, organized by the Peace Corps Club and the OSU Peace Corps recruitment office, is expected to host approximately 120 guests, including family and members of the club.

The event at OSU is set to cost the Peace Corps Club approximately $250, Baker said.

Campbell said while the individuals set to attend the reception have been nominated as Peace Corps volunteers, “the bulk of them” do not know specifically what community in which they are assigned to serve.

Campbell said the Peace Corps application process is long and arduous, lasting anywhere from nine months to a year.

“You’re nominated within a certain skill range,” he said. “And then (you) do a background check and all kinds of medical checks.”

Once nominees have passed these preliminary tests, they must wait to receive their invitation from the Peace Corps placement office in Washington, D.C., Campbell said.

“Washington issues you an invitation to go to a specific country … and it is that invitation that is really important,” Campbell said. “Because then you’ve climbed the mountain and you’ve come down and you’ve got in your hand that invitation to become a Peace Corps volunteer.”

Campbell, who served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Fiji in 1989 and Botswana in 1992, said one of the hardest parts of the volunteer process is that waiting period.

“For a lot of individuals, (nine months) is too long to wait. They want immediate results right now,” he said. “I tell them to be flexible and be patient.”

Patience is a life skill many Peace Corps nominees have learned throughout the application process, said Jennifer Potts, a Peace Corps nominee and fourth-year in social work.

“I’ve learned about patience and also have learned a little more about myself like preparing to commit to move to a third world country for (approximately) three years,” Potts said.

Potts said she has been nominated to be a health extension aide in Nicaragua, but that could change.

“I think the Peace Corps means service that actually makes an impact,” Potts said. “You go in and live for (27 months), you meet the people, you work alongside them and live in the same conditions that they live in.”

Campbell said volunteers’ abilities to integrate themselves into the societies in which they are serving is one of the distinguishing aspects of the Peace Corps experience.

“The nice thing about being a Peace Corps volunteer is that we do not wear uniforms and we do not carry a gun,” Campbell said. “We go directly into the villages where people live and we assimilate ourselves into those communities.”

Adaptability is another skill of successful Peace Corps volunteers, Campbell said.

“That’s the challenge that I tell everybody that you’ll be faced with in Peace Corps. You can say, ‘I can’t do it,’ and (I) almost did say, ‘Well, I can’t do it … I don’t have the skills for it,’” he said. “But you have to accept the challenge and then you grow.”

Mohammad Ashique, a fourth-year in city and regional planning, said his ability to adapt to situations should help him succeed as a Peace Corps volunteer.

“I think of myself as a person who can adapt to a situation, depending on where I am,” he said.

Ashique said he hopes to use what he has learned as an undergraduate student while serving overseas.

“I’ve done a lot of community involvement type of work, so I know that the Peace Corps does a lot of that and they need volunteers for community involvement, so that is essentially what I hope to do,” he said. “(The Peace Corps) is a way to have my impact to try to create a better world (and) a better environment for people who might not necessarily have that opportunity.”

Kim Miller, a fourth-year in public affairs, is slated to begin her Peace Corps experience in June. She has been assigned to teach high school math in Liberia.

“The Peace Corps provides a really great opportunity for me to go make a positive impact on a community while learning a ton about myself,” she said. “The Peace Corps to me means … testing limits, pursuing passion and just being yourself and hoping that you integrate well into a community.”

Miller said she is not worried about living in a community so different from the U.S. and is excited to accept the challenges the Peace Corps offers.

“I love challenges and I love going into new places that might be a little uncomfortable,” she said. “One of my personal mantras is ‘comfort is the enemy.’ So if you are a little bit uncomfortable, then that means that something great can really come from your experience. Great things never really came to people who stuck in their comfort zones.”

Baker agreed and said the Peace Corps offers volunteers an opportunity to exchange cultures and ideas.

Baker said she hopes to become a Peace Corps nominee after graduation.

“The volunteers sharing things about America and then coming back and sharing things they learned during their service is really important,” she said.

Katie Ferman, a Peace Corps nominee who graduated from OSU in 2013 with a bachelor of arts in international studies and a bachelor of science in environmental policy and management, said she thinks her experience as an undergraduate instilled in her a love of giving back to others.

“One thing that I have learned through Ohio State specifically is to pay it forward,” Ferman said. “I have always done it within the context of serving internationally, either by thinking globally (and) acting locally, or actually going and taking the things I’ve learned in school and thinking locally and acting globally.”

Ferman said she thinks the Peace Corps will allow her to take the skills she learned at OSU and apply them to the world of public service.

“Ohio State kind of started me off … giving me the academic background and the mental tools,” she said. “I want to build upon that with the Peace Corps.”

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