Peace Corps continues to enrich lives of U grads

Jerret Raffety

This May, many seniors at the University will consider job prospects. Others will consider graduate programs. A very select few will prepare to say goodbye to their families and friends for more than two years.

“The people I leave behind will be the hardest part,” said Miles Ulrich, a graduate of the University’s Institute of Technology.

In June, Ulrich will join 68 other University graduates who are serving worldwide in the Peace Corps.

Ulrich is preparing to leave for Moldova, a nation in Eastern Europe, for the next 27 months, he said.

He will spend three months learning about the small nation’s culture and language.

From there, he will work in business development, lending his expertise on computer software and hardware applications to several Moldovan nonprofit groups, Ulrich said.

“It’s hard to imagine seeing a more-direct impact of your hard work than in something like the Peace Corps,” Ulrich said.

The application process, which includes extensive paperwork, interviewing and eye, medical and dental exams, was very time-consuming but worth it, Ulrich said.

“When I brought my paperwork for my physical to ‘U’ doctors, they cringed at how much paperwork they were going to need to do,” Ulrich said.

He said he knows his experience with the Peace Corps will attract employers who share his outlook on the world.

“I wanted some work that I could take pride in, as opposed to just working for myself,” Ulrich said.

Returned volunteers

Miriam Krause, a returned Peace Corps volunteer, said she would definitely go back to Samoa, where she taught science and English to children between ages 9 and 13.

Krause, a second-year graduate student in the University’s speech-language-hearing sciences department, said Peace Corps representatives serve as ambassadors of U.S. culture to the people they are helping.

“When you get back, you’re performing the inverse,” said Krause, who served in Samoa from 2000-02. “You’ve experienced another culture, and now you represent this culture informally to Americans.”

Krause said she did experience some culture shock, such as the difference between how Americans and Samoans attribute status to an individual.

“It was a low status to be a young, unmarried woman in Samoan society,” she said. “But, it was worse to be a young, unmarried man, because that meant you had no title.”

A young man without a title is not part of a familial hierarchy, which is necessary to be taken seriously in Samoan society, she said.

Her experience put the individual-oriented U.S. culture in perspective, Krause said.

“I am still fundamentally American, with those individualistic traits, yet I am aware now how subjective my views are and how cultural relativity is important to remember,” she said.

Maxie Rockymore, a second-year graduate student in the School of Social Work, celebrated the 20th anniversary of the completion of her Peace Corps experience Friday. Rockymore volunteered in Honduras, working as a tutor in a boys’ orphanage in the capital city of Tegucigalpa in her first year, and later taught nutrition and subsistence farming in the rural village of Las Ruinas de Copan.

While there, she saw a great deal of extreme poverty, she said.

“The children in the orphanage (where I volunteered) were the lucky ones, because they were protected from the poverty and starvation of the streets,” Rockymore said.

She said that in Tegucigalpa, many children were living on the streets, where habits such as glue-sniffing are common.

Rockymore said she was shocked to see the lack of nutritional and health sciences education in Honduras.

“So many children die each year in Honduras of unsanitary conditions and poor nutritional habits,” Rockymore said.

“Often, I’d congratulate a woman on the beautiful baby she just had,” she said. “And a few weeks later, I’d ask the same woman where her baby was, and she would show me the baby’s grave.”

Rockymore said the people she helped taught her the power of human dignity through their strength.

“Americans think they have much to give with their money, and they fail to realize they can learn and grow from poor people by learning about human dignity,” she said.

More University volunteers

This year, the University is ranked No. 9, up from No. 12 among large colleges last year, in the number of its graduates who go into the Peace Corps, according to reports published by the Peace Corps headquarters in Washington.

Since the Peace Corps’ inception in 1961, the University has ranked among large universities as the 20th overall producer of Peace Corps volunteers in the nation, according to the reports.

“(The high ranking) speaks to the University’s commitment to service learning,” said Dan MacLaughlin, a recruiter for the Peace Corps’ Minneapolis office.

Students can learn how to succeed in the sometimes-unstructured atmosphere of Peace Corps missions by participating in volunteer and internship programs through the Career and Community Learning Center, he said.

The University also offers a strong learning abroad program, which is another advantage for prospective Peace Corps volunteers, MacLaughlin said.

Learning abroad teaches students and their families the coping mechanisms they will need to deal with a prolonged experience abroad, MacLaughlin said. It can also give students the language skills and interest in another culture they need to succeed in a Peace Corps mission, he said.

“You can be a tourist for a month or a student abroad for six months, but that merely allows you to see the tip of the iceberg of a new culture,” MacLaughlin said.

“The Peace Corps allows you to see below the surface and understand the full depth of a culture.”