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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Peace Corps provides alternative for grads

    With graduation approaching and bleak economic and job conditions on the horizon, some UA students are looking to the Peace Corps to jump-start their post-college lives.

    Inquiries from UA students about the Peace Corps’ two-year volunteer program have increased, said Lesley Newman, Southern Arizona recruiter for the Peace Corps.

    “”Right now applications are up, inquiries are way up,”” Newman said. “”A lot of people are worried about what they’re going to do in May because the job market is tight, and also I think there’s more of an emphasis on service nationally and I think that a lot of people feel inspired by that.””

    Typically there are 55 applicants from Southern Arizona, but this year Newman said she is expecting 50 applications from UA students alone.

    “”I get a lot of students who come in my office, and say ‘I don’t know anything about the Peace Corps, but I’m worried about May, tell me what my options are,'”” she said.

    Around 25 UA students join the Peace Corps every year, Newman added.

    The Peace Corps is a volunteer program that requires a two-year commitment to serve in a developing country, said Newman, who served in the Dominican Republic from 2004 to 2006.

    Projects range from teaching business skills in Ukraine to educating Zambians about HIV and AIDS to teaching English in Mongolia, Newman said.

    Alyssa Bittenbender, a public health graduate student who served in Lunga, Zambia for 27 months, is a “”Peace Corps Fellow”” along with about 55 other UA students.

    Each member of the Peace Corps Fellows, a scholarship program for returning volunteers, must complete 1,000 hours of community service within the two years they are in graduate school, Bittenbender said.

    “”I joined the Peace Corps because I wanted to learn about another culture and have a better understanding of a way of life that was completely different than mine,”” Bittenbender said. “”As Americans we’re incredibly privileged and I felt a sense of duty to help others.””

    Bittenbender said she helped the people of Lunga organize a health committee so they could create solutions for diseases in their community.

    “”I did health education,”” Bittenbender said. “”I focused on five main areas: malaria, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, safe pregnancies and child growth and development.””

    Both Bittenbender and Newman said the best part about being in the Peace Corps was the relationships they created in their communities and with other volunteers were.

    The closest volunteer to Bittenbender in Zambia lived 20 kilometers away, or a one-hour bike ride, but Bittenbender said they saw each other often and are now best friends.

    Bittenbender said joining the Peace Corps was the best decision she has ever made.

    “”It’s the thing I’m most proud of,”” she added.

    Students are encouraged to stop by the Peace Corps Fair from 4-7 p.m. today in the North Ballroom of the Student Union Memorial Center in order to learn more about the Peace Corps.

    “”A lot of people have apprehensions applying to Peace Corps and it’s a great way to see people who have gone and had good experiences,”” Newman said.

    There will be 100 returning Peace Corps volunteers at the fair to tell potential volunteers about their experiences, Bittenbender said.

    “”Pretty much every region of the world will be represented,”” she added.

    There will be discussions and presentations at the fair including a look into a typical day in the life of a Peace Corps volunteer, “”which you’ll find is really quite different than the life of Americans,”” Bittenbender said.

    Newman said her best advice to a Peace Corps applicant, other than attending the fair, is, “”be ready for anything. One of the coolest things that you learn is to really, really just be so flexible and adjust to your situation.””

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