Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Answer The Call: Responsible Travel With The Peace Corps

Photo courtesy of  Peace Corps Public Service Announcements

The idea of responsible travel is something that many people have heard about on television, in magazines, as well as online. The concept is that instead of traveling for yourself you do so with a purpose of aiding the country that you will be visiting. Countless television personalities talk about how people can give back and help the places they will be staying by bringing along items for schools and orphanages or donating funds to worthy cause abroad.

While I have an extreme love for traveling I admit I haven’t been doing my part at times to be a responsible traveler. As a young adult the majority of my trips have been for school in which we attended university abroad or studied famous sights. And when I wasn’t traveling for class credit I was abroad with my family, sightseeing and living in some of the most interesting destinations I’ve ever been to. All of it was amazing, but aside from working with some national and international charities I haven’t really been doing my part to help.

Now that my college career is wrapping up my travels will be less and less about school and recreation and more about helping out as I hope to make the move towards becoming a more responsible traveler. And the perfect way to do that? Looking into joining the Peace Corps.

Now I’m not saying that joining the Peace Corps is for everyone, nor am I guarantying that I will even get in but it’s definitely worth it to bring up this amazing opportunity for people in Raleigh to get involved with projects halfway across the world.

The Peace Corps is a volunteer program which started in 1961 with the three fundamental aims:

  • To provide technical assistance
  • To help people outside the United States to understand U.S. culture
  • To help Americans understand the cultures of other countries

To obtain these goals the Peace Corps has employed over 200,000 American volunteers to be sent abroad to help developing areas in 139 countries by working in schools, government institutions, non-profit organizations, and with entrepreneurs in their local setting. Volunteers are sent abroad for 27 months at a time after receiving various language, culture, and technical training and support stateside. Once abroad Peace Corps volunteers receive various benefits such as partial college loan deferment and cancelation, monthly living allowance to cover housing and living expenses based on location, medical and dental insurance, vacation time, and transition funds once time is complete. 

In addition to all of this joining the Peace Corps is a great way to build a resume, and achieve marketability towards potential employers in the future. If you decide to attend graduate school after your 27 month commitment is up you also may be eligible for scholarships and reduced tuition at over 130 participating schools with a Peace Corps program. 

To learn more about the Peace Corps I decided to attend the Eastern North Carolina Career Alliance’s Career Fair in Raleigh where a representative of the program would be speaking to students from local colleges. While the career fair was full of great opportunities with local and national businesses, the Peace Corps booth definitely stood out as the most global of ways to make an impact in society. The representative from the program, Emma Garcia, was a former Peace Corps volunteer in Bulgaria from 2007-2009. She was extremely helpful in explaining the ins and outs of the program, and explained to me the benefits of responsible tourism and volunteering abroad:

“It’s a great opportunity to give back on the international level. It’s a life changing experience.”

Garcia told me about aid while abroad which ranged from the stipends to advice and support from other volunteers. She also explained how language training in a volunteer’s host country is extensive and free, a great deal for someone interested in learning a new language. Most volunteers learn enough of the language to feel confident to work and communicate with the public on their own!

Garcia also explained the work that goes into the selection of a volunteer’s sector of work (the theme of their volunteer service in a sense) and why volunteers are asked to make the 27 month commitment:

"We tailor your volunteer work towards the sector you want, and we look at adaptability and how you deal with challenges. It really takes a good amount of time to integrate into the community”

She went on to explain that the first few months are full of various training abroad, and getting used to your new environment. By the time you have reached the one year mark you will be more comfortable in your surroundings and can focus solely on making a difference. 

The Peace Corps is a great opportunity to travel responsibly, whether you are just out of college or looking for something amazing to do after leaving the workforce. 

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