In 2002 when Kristjan Selvig, a project manager for Community-University Health Care Center, received her master’s degree from the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs in public policy, she faced the same question as most University graduates: now what?
“I wasn’t ready for a desk job just yet,” she said.
Selvig decided to join the Peace Corps and left for Lesotho in southern Africa two weeks later.
“You are at a point where you’re free Ö you’re probably as free as you’re ever going to be,” Selvig said. “It’s very much a choose-your-own-adventure.”
Selvig’s adventure consisted of her working as a project manager in an HIV/AIDS clinic called Maluti Adventist Hospital.
Selvig is in good company when it comes to volunteering with the Peace Corps.
The University is ranked ninth for the most graduates currently serving in the Peace Corps, two positions up from last year. Currently, there are a total of 71 Minnesota volunteers throughout the world.
The University is also ranked the 18th-largest producer of volunteers since the Peace Corps began in 1961, with 1,203 volunteers.
Brian Green, regional recruiter for the Peace Corps, is the primary recruiter for the University.
1 UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON
2 UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN- MADISON
3 UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO- BOULDER
4 UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA AT CHAPEL HILL
5 MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN
7 UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS-AUSTIN
8 UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA- BERKELEY
9 UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA
10 UNIVERSITY OF OREGON
Many students reflected on their experiences entering into a place completely foreign to them, Green said.
“It expands their perspective, just to see how a different culture lives,” he said, “to experience it firsthand, instead of just reading about it,”
Alicen Spaulding, an epidemiology graduate student in the School of Public Health, volunteered as a health extension volunteer in Paraguay from 2000-2002.
Spaulding said her experience in the Peace Corps opened her eyes to the rest of the world.
“The experience literally changed my life; the way I look at myself, the world and my place in the world,” she said.
Selvig said she was introduced to a world of racism like nothing she had experienced before.
The hospital that Selvig worked at was run entirely by white South Africans who left prior to the end of Apartheid.
“Blacks were not their colleagues, and that was really tough,” Selvig said. “I’ve never dealt with that in such a daily and obvious way.”
But applying to the Peace Corps is no simple task. The entire process can last anywhere from six to nine months, Green said.
“For people who just want to go to find themselves, is an awful thing; you have to be ambitious,” Selvig said. “You are going to have to have a strong sense of who you are.”
Scott Daby, associate program director for the University Learning Abroad Center, said he believes the reason so many University graduates join the Peace Corps is simply that it interests them.
“There are a lot of students who are interested in international and global issues on the U of M campus,” he said. “There’s a strong kind of presence for that type of experience here.”
Volunteers interested in joining the Peace Corps have several decisions to make before they board a plane: Where do they want to go? What program do they want?
Volunteers won’t always get to go where they want or enter the program they want. That decision is up to the Peace Corps placement office in Washington D.C.
Selvig is one of the lucky ones who went where she wanted and got the program that she wanted.
“I pretty much got my wish, I was doing community health service in southern Africa,” she said.
Both Selvig and Spaulding agree joining the Peace Corps is a worthwhile experience for any person.
“I think it is the kind of experience that changes you for the better and truly does work toward improving relationships among people from different parts of the world,” Spaulding said. “This was truly a gift that I will have with me always.”