Written in early 2016 to answer the question: Why am I joining the Peace Corps?
Many have asked why I am putting my wonderful life in California “on hold” for more than 2 years – leaving my loving family and engaging friends – in exchange for physical hardship, mental challenges, emotional struggles and tremendous uncertainty among strangers as “foreign” as I’ve ever met. “Why travel to the far side of the globe to face such difficult circumstances and work for free?”
There are many reasons I could claim. Simply put, however, my best answer is “because I finally get to…” It’s been many years in the making…
I was 12 years old when I first heard of the Peace Corps. In 1970, a year of civil disruption and personal epiphanies, I became aware of just how large the globe is and how different its people. Reports on TV, newspaper headlines, Mrs Hart’s 8th grade US History class, my older cousin Bobby joining the Marines to fight in “Nam,” my grandparents returning home from yet another corner of the globe, replete with photographs and stories of their exotic travels. Somewhere along the line, I heard a now-long-forgotten reference to “President Kennedy’s Peace Corps” where young people volunteer to live and work in developing the countries, learning their languages, eating their food, teaching and helping.
My first contact with a Peace Corps recruiter was as a freshman in college. “Do you plan to complete your degree?” “Yes, of course.” “Good, we could use you more then…”
OK, so returning from my junior year of college in Scotland, I saw another Peace Corps recruiter. “Do you plan to going to graduate school?” “Yea, probably, maybe law school or to get my MBA.” “Good, we could use you more then…”
Well, you know what happened next…
“Then” became a life: tech career, family, consulting practice, buying a company, divorce, engagement, selling a company, consulting again…
Last summer, my love happened to say “you know how you’ve always talked about doing something with the Peace Corps? Since my son still has 3 years of high school left, if you’re going to do it, now would be the best time to go!”
With that instigation, my research began. Visiting the Peace Corps website, I came across Sargent Shriver’s original 1961 speech to the New York Herald Tribune Youth Forum. If you remove the outdated references to this being a young person’s calling, it describes my rationale for going as well as anything I could write:
The world is coming alive. New countries are bursting with activity. In Latin America and the Middle East, in Africa and Asia, there is an urgent desire to leap into the twentieth century.
The Peace Corps is part of our effort to help make that leap forward a success. It is part of our effort to help in the world-wide assault against poverty, hunger, ignorance and disease – a grass roots, rice roots volunteer effort of free men.
As we see it, the Peace Corps is a trained group of skilled workers – and I emphasize trained and skilled – a trained group of skilled workers, young in years, mature in judgment, dedicated in purpose, voluntary in character, ready to go and work anywhere in the world at the discretion of the President of the United States.
All of this will be an effort on our part to encourage the development of newly emerging nations – and to develop with them. Every Peace Corps volunteer who goes abroad will have something to offer to the people with whom he lives and works – and to learn from them.
I have been talking about what Americans can give working as members of the Peace Corps. It is important to emphasize that they will receive as much as they give, and perhaps more. I want to make it clear that when our Peace Corps volunteers go to other countries they will go to learn, not just to teach.
In our shrinking world all peoples of the world are neighbors. It is the responsibility of all of us to understand our neighbors and to learn from one another. Because the members of the Peace Corps are eager to have a better understanding of their neighbors in other countries, they are asking for the opportunity to live abroad and to work with people of different cultures so that they may understand and learn their way of life.
If you have ten minutes, please read the entire speech. It’s quite moving and very inspiring: Sargent Shriver’s Speech-The Peace Corps Speaks for Itself
For my part, I don’t seek to inspire others – I simply seek to experience for myself. If, however, the sharing of these experiences in this blog serves to jog a memory, light a flame, or help someone realize that they, too, can reach for something like this, then I can only say: “Welcome and enjoy your journey!”