Today is Peace Corps Day, which marks the 42nd anniversary of the Peace Corps, and, on a local level, today will honor the 220 Coloradoans that are currently overseas.
The Peace Corps will be holding an open house today in honor of Peace Corps Day. The open house will be in the Office of International Programs in Laurel Hall from 3 to 5 p.m. Over 150 former Peace Corps members will share their experiences.
Fifty-nine graduates from CSU make up a significant portion of that 220.
Colorado State ranks 11th on the Peace Corps’ list of large colleges that have graduates serving in the Peace Corps, according to Kristi Orr, public affairs specialist for the Peace Corps Denver Regional Office.
This year’s spot is up from last year, when CSU ranked 12, with 48 alumni volunteering in the Peace Corps. Also on the list are The University of Wisconsin in Madison with 123 graduates serving, ranked first in the nation, and, ranked sixth, the University of Colorado in Boulder, according to Orr.
“Students in the Fort Collins community seem to be very internationally aware. It’s a combination of people wanting to do something in the world, to make a difference, and to promote cultural understanding,” said Jeff Brooks, the CSU Campus Representative for Peace Corps.
He added that the international awareness in the community is largely due to the people in the community who make an effort to increase cultural awareness, which then “naturally makes a spark in students to do something.”
Antonio Francesco, the regional recruiter for the Denver Peace Corps Office, said he feels that there are really three basic reasons why CSU has such a high number serving in the Peace Corps. The first of these is that the international community in Fort Collins and on the CSU campus is very abundant and supportive.
The second reason is that students are involved in the community and are service-oriented. The numbers are also due to the relationship between the Peace Corps and CSU. Francesco said there is a “strong historical tie between the Peace Corps and CSU,” and without this tie, the numbers likely would not have been quite as high.
The Peace Corps offers a readjustment fee after the volunteers return from their two years, to help them return to their lives in the U.S. The allowance of $6,075 is for the person to spend however they like, and can go towards things like rent on an apartment or home, new clothes, or whatever is needed after their two years abroad “to get back into the community,” said Brooks.
The Peace Corps also offers a master’s program, where graduate students can earn their master’s degree with a combination of grad school and volunteering. The program, entitled the Masters International Program, takes a total of three years to complete, and the student has to go through one year of graduate school and then two years in the Peace Corps. After they return, all the student has to do is write their dissertation and they’ve earned their Masters degree, Francesco said.
Francesco said there was a great increase in numbers joining the Peace Corps all over the U.S. after Sept. 11, 2001. He attributes it to a sudden sense of awareness about what goes on in the rest of the world. “People’s sensitivity and awareness of international needs is higher after a crisis.”
Jennifer Pokorny is a graduate of CSU who will be leaving for the Eastern Caribbean at the beginning of April. She said joining the Peace Corps seemed like the best idea for now because she wasn’t really ready for a job, and wasn’t ready for grad school either, but wanted to go on a “solo adventure.”
After going on a cruise with her family, Pokorny saw parts of the Caribbean and was shocked at the people she met along the way and how different their lives were.
“I feel like I’ve been living in a bubble in America,” she said.
She also said she saw “a lot of poverty we (Americans) don’t have any idea about.” As for her decision to spend the next two years in the Eastern Caribbean, she feels like the time will pass quickly, and, for now, it’s exactly what she wants to do.
“I can’t really imagine trying to do anything else right now,” Pokorny said.
Students interested in finding out more about the programs available in the Peace Corps are invited to attend the Open House or contact the CSU Peace Corps Office in the Office of International Programs, room 102E Laurel Hall.
To join the Peace Corps, the two basic requirements are that the person be at least 18 years old, and be a U.S. citizen. However, many of the programs in the Peace Corps require a four-year degree of some type to be involved with them. Volunteers can choose from various programs, such as Environmental, Educational, Community Service, Business, Informational Technology and others to focus on while serving their two years overseas.