Margaret Rice, K’15, heard about the Peace Corps growing up and always thought she’d like to do something similar when she was older. It wasn’t until after Rice’s “More in Four,” a double major and an eye-opening study abroad experience, that she decided to apply for the Peace Corps her senior year at K.
“I considered graduate school, but wanted to gain hands-on international experience before committing to more education, and the Peace Corps seemed like a natural choice,” said Rice in an email last week.
Rice is currently a Community Health Promoter for Peace Corps Guyana, the only English-speaking country in South America. As communication is spotty in the country, Rice spoke over email last week before venturing back into Guyana’s interior.
Rice described her home for the past year as a blended, diverse culture. “Guyana is experiencing the structural and growing pains of a nation that has only been independent for 50 years,” she said.
A prior Biology and English major, Rice spent ten weeks of Pre-Service Training in preparation for her community health position. The majority of the training “was spent going over Peace Corps policy and expectations,” said Rice. She did not acquire most of her knowledge about Guyanese culture until she arrived at her specific Peace Corps site within the country.
“It was very sink or swim at that point. You put yourself out there and learn from the locals, or you will be very limited with what you can do for the rest of your service,” she said.
Rice learned quickly that all of her expectations did not match the realities of Peace Corps service.
According to Rice, success as a Peace Corps Volunteer “becomes more about intercultural understanding and friendships forged” than meeting the predetermined or quantitative goals she set before her service.
It was very sink or swim at that point. You put yourself out there and learn from the locals.
This global connectivity and cultural sharing was a primary goal of the Peace Corps when it was established by President John F. Kennedy in 1961. Standing on the steps of the University of Michigan’s Student Union, the then presidential candidate gave an impromptu speech outlining his plan for an international volunteer organization. Today, Peace Corps supports more than ¼ million American volunteers worldwide.
The program offers benefits such as paid travel expenses, a living stipend, and numerous career opportunities after service, said Michael Gail, a Peace Corps promoter, at a presentation at K last Tuesday. The application process takes nine to twelve months, so applicants are encouraged to plan ahead.
Gail, a Peace Corps volunteer in Micronesia from 2007-2009, further stressed the value of relationship building in his presentation. He said volunteers are not entitled to see the progress of their work, but that the outcomes will occur with time.
To truly understand if the Peace Corps is a good fit for a student, both Rice and Gail suggest speaking with past volunteers.
“What you see in the advertisements are hi-lights and there is definitely more complexity to service,” said Rice. “Volunteers are the only ones who know what the full experience entails, the only way to really understand is to live it.”
I decided on Yale because the program reminded me so much of the small, collaborative, intersectional learning experience I had at K
In the Fall, Rice will be attending the Yale School of Public Health to pursue a masters in Public Health in Social and Behavioral Sciences with a Concentration in Global Health.
“I actually decided on Yale because the program reminded me so much of the small, collaborative, intersectional learning experience I had at K. That’s something I value even more as a graduate than I did as a student and was really looking for in my next educational experience.”
For Rice, “More in Four” extended far beyond her graduation date.