College alumni discuss life in Rwanda, Dominican Republic

After four years studying in small-town Williamsburg, some graduates of the College of William and Mary choose to expand their borders through Peace Corps service.

“I first started thinking about Peace Corps when I was a junior at William and Mary,” Taylor Harveycutter ’11, Peace Corps volunteer currently serving in Rwanda, said in an email “The plan was always to go to law school until all of a sudden it wasn’t. Service had always been a part of my life and this seemed like a perfect fit for me, post-grad.”

A recent U.S. News and World Report article ranked the College No. 9 among mid-sized colleges and universities for Peace Corps volunteers, with 208 College alumni currently serving overseas.

Peace Corps volunteers spend 27 months volunteering in a foreign country. Volunteers are placed depending on their skill set and the need in the region, not necessarily depending on the volunteer’s preference. The government program was founded in 1960 by President John F. Kennedy with three goals: providing technical assistance, helping people outside the United States to understand American culture, and helping Americans to understand the cultures of other countries.

“The most rewarding part of my experience is the relationships I’ve built, both with other volunteers and Dominicans,” Brendan Fields ’11, Peace Corps volunteer currently serving in the Dominican Republic, said in an email.  “I’ve gained a second family, made lifelong friends, and get the satisfaction of working alongside my community to make a difference.”

Tuesday Mar. 26, Peace Corps mid-Atlantic regional recruiter Alison McReynolds   came to the Sherman and Gloria H. Cohen Career Center to speak to College students about the complex application process.

“Many people want to go right after school because it fits well into their life. Peace Corps is a great way to launch an international career or to bring that international perspective to any job,” McReynolds said. “It’s a powerful thing to put on your resume for any job app, and I think William and Mary students definitely see that.”

After submitting a series of recommendations and applications, potential volunteers undergo medical and legal clearance before finally receiving an invitation to serve. Having certain skill sets, such as an environmental science degree, volunteer experience or a medical background, can make an applicant more appealing.

“Going to William and Mary made me a stronger applicant,” Fields said.  “My History major gave me the ability to reason critically and communicate effectively, and the numerous service opportunities on and off campus gave me experience in volunteering.”

Although the average age of a Peace Corps volunteer is 28, some choose to serve immediately after graduation.

Stephanie Dimos ’15 attended the Peace Corps information session in the Career Center last Tuesday to lean more about the program’s application process.

“As an international relations major I’m really interested in international development,” Dimos said. “I am currently in a social entrepreneurship class and am going to the Dominican Republic this summer on a social entrepreneurship trip during which we will meet with USAID, Peace Corps and local NGOs to learn about development strategies.”

Reynolds explained that sometimes people worry about safety and security when moving to a developing country for 27 months, but by adapting to the cultural norms of the city in which a volunteer is placed, he or she is less likely to experience difficulties.

“Every time you move somewhere new, you have to be aware. For example, I currently live in Washington, D.C. The crime statistics there aren’t so great,” McReynolds said. “Honestly when I was in the Peace Corps, I felt safer on the streets there than in D.C.”

The Office of Community Engagement, located in Blow Memorial Hall, facilitates community engagement opportunities for students during their time at, and after, the College.

“Peace Corps operates, in large part, to promote cross-national understanding and appreciation,” Assistant Vice President of Student Engagement and Leadership Drew Stelljes said.  “William and Mary students, better than anywhere I have witnessed, develop both critical thinking skills and empathic mindset, needed to provide both leadership and support in our changing world.”

Stelljes emphasized that Peace Corps service represents just one of many paths College students can follow after graduation.

“Students come to William and Mary with a desire to change the world,” Stelljes said. “William and Mary students are globally minded. They are interested in learning about the complexities of international development. They are humble in their approach, seeking first to understand. There seems no better place than William and Mary to cultivate the passion and skill set of the next great social innovators and world changers. It’s what we do best.”

While abroad, each Peace Corps volunteer takes on a series of various projects. Life as a Peace Corps volunteer can be very structured or much more free flowing.

“At the College, I was over-committed and busy all the time,” Fields said. “As a volunteer, I take things much more slowly, make my own schedule, and choose my own projects. At first the lack of structure came as a shock, but I’ve developed and learned to thrive in that kind of environment.”

Harveycutter agreed that the Peace Corps offers a much different experience to a graduate of the College.

“I think Peace Corps is an incredible experience, and I would recommend it to anyone who is thinking about doing it as long as they realize the commitment it takes,” Harveycutter said. “You are away from everything and everyone you know for more than two years. They don’t call it the toughest job you’ll ever love for nothing.”



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