There has always been a connection between Peace Corps Volunteer service and jobs, although
until recently that connection has been underappreciated.
The experience of 200,000 Volunteers provides compelling evidence that Peace Corps service
helps individuals develop flexibility, empathy, cross-cultural and language skills, all of which are
invaluable attributes for job-seekers in today's highly dynamic global economy.
We also know that many U.S.-international-oriented organizations, such as the Agency for
International Development, the U.S. State Department, CARE, Save the Children, and a number
of other international development agencies are full of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers
(RPCVs). Although being an RPCV may not always get you the job you want, it gets you in the
door for an initial conversation about a job almost every time.
The recent ceremony marking the Peace Corps's return to Nepal after a six-year hiatus reveals
the powerful nexus between Peace Corps service and international careers. Many of the
individuals responsible for this return had Peace Corps connections. This included the Nepalese
ambassador to the U.S., Dr. Shankar P. Sharma, who had two Peace Corps Volunteer teachers.
Peace Corps Director Aaron Williams, Chief of Staff Stacey Rhodes, Regional Director for
Europe the Mediterranean and Asia Helen Lowman, and former Congressman Jim Walsh are all
RPCVs, the former two with distinguished careers at USAID.
Additionally, RPCVs account for a significant number of the personnel at State, USAID
and Peace Corps who were directly involved in making this return possible, including U.S.
ambassador to Nepal and RPCV, Michael DeLisi.
What is less well known is that right from its inception a half century ago, applicants to the
Peace Corps understood that volunteer service could be the start of an international career.
According to A Call to Peace, our nationally representative survey of 11,138 Volunteers released
in September 2011, nearly one third of the RPCVs from the 1960s named "wanting to develop
career and leadership skills" as a very important or important motivation.
While there has always been interest in leveraging Peace Corps Volunteer service into a career,
that interest has become more pronounced in recent decades. A Call to Peace found that, "...there
has been a significant generational shift in the view toward acquiring skills, possibly reflecting
pressures RPCVs feel from employers today that place a greater demand on job skills and
experience when they return home." By the 2000s, a surprising 68 percent of RPCVS identified
developing career and leadership skills as "very important" motivation or "important."
No matter when or where Volunteers served, a remarkable 60 percent of those surveyed said
that their service influenced their choice of career. More than 90 percent reported that the
phrase "changed my life" described their experience at least fairly well, and 98 percent would
recommend service in the Peace Corps to a friend or family member.
Another underappreciated aspect of the Peace Corps experience related to career development is
that Peace Corps service is the entry point to an invaluable network. Just think of it: your Peace
Corps Volunteer service connects you to a network of more than 200,000 individuals who share
your experience, values and worldview. Coming from a small college with just 20,000 alums,
I feel very fortunate to be plugged into a fabulous network that is ten times larger. After all, the
Peace Corps is likely a more powerful network than your family/friends and classmates.
While developing an internationally oriented career may be a common motivation for joining the
Peace Corps, during these challenging economic times it is important that we make much more
explicit the strong connection between volunteer service and developing a meaningful career
where you can make a difference.
The National Peace Corps Association has several resources to assist Returned Peace Corps
Volunteers in their career development after they return home including a new job site geared
toward the Peace Corps community. This site and other tools are available on the association's
resource page at: http://www.peacecorpsconnect.org/resources/
Kevin F.F. Quigley (Thailand 76-79) is president of the National Peace Corps Association, the nation's leading nonprofit organization supporting Returned Peace Corps Volunteers and the Peace Corps Community. To learn more, visit: www.peacecorpsconnect.org
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