Feb 062005
 
Authors: Karissa Ciarlelli

The organization with the slogan "the toughest job you'll ever love" offers some volunteers the adventure of a lifetime.

It involves leaving behind friends and family for two years, traveling to a foreign nation and submerging oneself into an unfamiliar and exotic new culture.

It is the Peace Corps.

CSU is among the nation's leading schools in producing Peace Corps volunteers. There are 66 CSU alumni serving around the world, which ranks CSU as the No. 10 supplier of volunteers this year.

Since the Peace Corps' inception in 1961, 1,281 volunteers have been CSU graduates, making CSU the No. 14 provider of volunteers of all time.

"To serve, (in the Peace Corps) one must have an altruistic and adventurous spirit," said Christy Eylar, the campus representative and recruiter of the U.S. Peace Corps.

Peace Corps volunteers primarily serve in education, and additional service areas include health and HIV/AIDS education, environment, agriculture, business development and information technology, Eylar said.

Peace Corps has 7,735 volunteers serving in 72 different countries. Volunteers are sent anywhere from Asia to Central America, Europe or Africa.

While volunteers are able to specify regions of the world that interest them, they are not necessarily able to choose their exact destination, Eylar said.

Leslie Shay Bright, assistant director of the Office of Conflict Resolution and Student Conduct Services at CSU, served as a member of the Peace Corps from 1996 to 1998 in the small country of Armenia.

Growing up in a small Wyoming town, Bright felt from an early age an urge to travel and see the world.

"Around when I was 15, I saw a commercial for the Peace Corps and thought, 'That's my ticket out!'" Bright said.

In Armenia, Bright taught English as a second language to kindergarten through 10th-grade Armenian students.

While teaching, Bright experienced a bit of culture shock because of the country's different learning styles. While the students of Armenia are accustomed to very strict, lecture-style learning, Bright attempted to teach in a more interactive, small-group style, which confused the children.

"It resulted in complete chaos. The kids were totally out of control," Bright said. She said her students would steal her chalk and throw rocks in from outside.

All Peace Corps volunteers are required to serve 27 months, with the first three months being training. For Bright, her training involved half-day language study and half-day job study.

"When you immerse yourself in the culture, you learn (the language) pretty darn fast," Bright said.

Certain countries have a language requirement for volunteers. For example, to serve in Latin America, volunteers must have completed four years of high school Spanish and two years of college-level Spanish.

Bright said she also experienced kindness from complete strangers while abroad.

"Armenians are the most giving and compassionate people. They would do anything for you," Bright said.

After getting on the wrong bus when she initially arrived, Bright was taken 15 to 20 miles away from her destination. However, an Armenian couple brought her to their home for the night and fed and cared for her until the next day when she left on the correct bus.

In addition to the adventure, Peace Corps volunteers are also able to develop their leadership and career skills, according to peacecorps.org.

Jennifer Johnson, the community liaison coordinator for Off-Campus Student Services, said she is truly an adventurer at heart. She spent 1999 to 2001 in Gambia, which is in West Africa, teaching math and science to middle school children.

Johnson learned to speak Mandinka, which was also the name of the tribe she stayed with, and she was taught to carry buckets of water on her head and adjust to life without electricity.

"It was very challenging at first, but I felt very comfortable after a year," Johnson said.

The Peace Corps' application process takes a year from the time a person applies to the time he or she gains acceptance.

The main reason people do not make it into the Peace Corps is because they remove themselves from the lengthy application process, as something else may come up in their lives, Eylar said.

The Peace Corps, which is funded by the U.S government, pays its volunteers a monthly living allowance to cover rent, food and travel expenses, as well as a monthly settlement fund of $225 a month. So when volunteers complete their service and return, they will have $6,075 set aside to readjust to life at home.

"My goal going in was very idealistic. I thought, 'I'm going to help them.' However, when I left, I realized that I was the one who had been helped," Bright said.

Johnson agreed, saying that her experience left her with a wider appreciation for cultural differences.

"I learned to appreciate the differences that contribute to our world in their own unique way," Johnson said. "And I now approach life with a different attitude."

Eylar, who served in Bolivia from 2001-2003, said her life was also altered for the better.

"I'd say I learned a much richer way of living my life," she said.

For more information on being involved in the Peace Corps, see Christy Eylar in

Laurel Hall on the Oval or visit the Peace Corps Web site.

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