Last Wednesday, Sep. 17, students gathered in Ferris Lounge to listen to a presentation by Carrie Teiken, a recruiter from the Peace Corps’ Chicago Regional Office. Teiken, herself a former Peace Corps volunteer who taught environmental education in Ghana from 2003-2005, tabled in Seymour Hall from 9 a.m. till 4 p.m., providing students with handouts and talking to students who stopped by.
The information session featured a video presentation in which several Peace Corps volunteers described their experience abroad. A question and answer session followed in which Teiken explained the application process.
The process is challenging and highly competitive. It can take anywhere from nine months to a year to complete the application and admission process. The Peace Corps looks for seriously motivated individuals who are capable of a two-year commitment. Prior to beginning their service, accepted volunteers undergo three months of language, cultural awareness, and job training. Upon completing their two years of service, they receive $6,000.
Knox College has the distinction of hosting the only official Peace Corps Preparatory Program in the United States as part of its current curriculum. The program, which was conceptualized in 2006 and officially began in 2007, features a rigorous course of study that aims to better prepare students for service in the Peace Corps.
Students interested in applying do so in their sophomore year and then spend their junior and senior year fulfilling a series of course requirements in education, foreign languages, and international studies. The program requirements also include community service and study abroad.
“Knox students are extremely lucky to have this program,” said Teiken, “as it is the only such program in the country.”
Knox College has a strong, long-standing history of involvement and partnership with the Peace Corps. Since Peace Corps began in 1961, approximately 150 Knox graduates have served in it, with an average of five students per year. Most recently, the Peace Corps recruited nine Knox students from the class of 2008.
Among these nine students is Megan Butler, an Environmental Education volunteer currently undergoing training in the Canton of Conception, a village near San Vincente, El Salvador.
“I will be with an elementary school in a community giving talks about the environment and English classes, and starting environmentally themed projects within my community,” Butler said.
Present at the information session were former Knox students Aaron and Mary Crocker, a married couple who served together in Guatemala in 2004-2006, where they pursued agriculture and planting. They described some of the challenges they encountered in their time serving, such as having to learn “five local languages.” The local villagers spoke mainly in native dialects. For them as well as for the Crockers, Spanish was a second language. Mary Crocker also talked about the local women’s reaction to her wearing jeans, t-shirts, and a baseball cap. She was constantly asked when she would start wearing “women’s clothes”.
The meeting caught the attention of prospective Knox volunteers.
“The meeting definitively gave me something to think about,” said senior Laurie Nowak. “It answered all my questions and painted a more vivid picture of what life is like in the Peace Corps.”
The John Fitzgerald Kennedy Administration officially established the Peace Corps in 1961. It is a federal agency that sends volunteers abroad to do international service in the fields of health, the environment, education, information technology, agriculture, and business, with the aim of promoting better understanding between America and different people of the world. Since 1961, over 190,000 volunteers have served in 139 different countries. Every year, around 4,000 volunteers are sent abroad. Peace Corps volunteers spend two years in the country where they are serving.