By Simon Isham–
Applications to the Peace Corps coming from the University of Louisville are at a record high, according to officials from the Chicago regional office.Peace Corps Regional Representative Laura Fonseca is responsible for recruiting across Kentucky and Southern Indiana. During the first and third Fridays of every month, Fonseca has office hours at U of L. It was she who noticed the change.
“It’s not necessarily that U of L students are applying more than students from other colleges, but the trend is growing,” she said. “Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen somewhat of an increase, but this year it was the biggest increase. Almost double as many students as I’ve had in the past.”
Because her office is located in the Career Development Center, Fonseca said that her officemates have been instrumental in the growth of student interest in the Peace Corps.
“They tell (their advisees) that this is a career move. This isn’t just a temporary job or volunteer opportunity. It’s a really big step forward for students. And then, as more students apply, they tell their friends about it,” she said. “And the students whom I’ve been interviewing have been more prepared than they’ve been in the past.”
Fonseca herself is a former Peace Corps volunteer. She traveled to Ukraine with her husband, Keith Sims, who is currently enrolled at the Kent School of Social Work.
U of L recently observed Peace Corps Week, a national event which was held from Feb. 26 through Mar. 2. The schedule revolves around the date that President John F. Kennedy signed the executive order which created the organization — Mar. 1, 1961. The week is intended to raise awareness of the activities of the Peace Corps and to celebrate the contributions of Peace Corps volunteers worldwide.
Volunteers spend the first three months of their term in an intensive learning program about the language and culture of their chosen country while in that country. The next two years are spent working on projects within assigned communities.
The Cardinal spoke to three U of L alumni, who are also Peace Corps volunteers, to find out why U of L students have recently become more interested in service. One of the graduates has already served, one is currently serving, and one will depart this week.
Brittany Dickens graduated U of L in 2011. She will be heading to Jamaica, where she will be aiding in an agricultural forestry initiative. Although she has decided to spend two years in a foreign country, Dickens has never left the United States. She said she has put her faith in the Peace Corps to have her best interests in mind.
“I’m not nervous about anything there,” she said. “I’m so excited just to get there … I know that once I get there, I’m just going to fall in love with it and know that it’s exactly where I’m supposed to be.”
Ben Bowman is a 2011 University of Louisville graduate and Peace Corps volunteer who is currently serving in a rural aquaculture promotion program in Zambia. He chose it because he said he had always wanted the classic Peace Corps experience, and claims that he’s getting it.
“I’m much more capable than I ever thought I was. Going from a typical daily schedule complete with social norms that I felt entirely comfortable with in the States, I was tossed into a completely new world without electricity or running water, many languages, a whole new set of social structures and behaviors, new people and friends … I’m not going to lie, these changes have been difficult and more stressful than I have imagined, but it is my life now, and I’m loving it!” he said.
Nick Tenorio graduated from U of L in 2006. Though he is now a Navy photographer, Tenorio served two terms in the Peace Corps — once in Uganda and once in Jamaica, working on sports-related projects both times.
Tenorio said his U of L degree played a part in his decision to join the Peace Corps “in the way that any liberal arts education exposes you to new ideas and new types of people. Experiences and stories shared with me by friends and colleagues gave me the inspiration and courage to undertake such an adventure. Generally, though, my interest in the Peace Corps was inspired by a broad interest in other cultures and a rejection of the idea that an energetic, idealistic, young graduate should begin his career stuck behind a desk.”
There will be an open information session about Peace Corps service at U of L in late April. Students who are interested in receiving more information before April may contact Laura Fonseca at 502-533-8808.