U ranks 11th in Peace Corps volunteers

The Peace Corps serves 73 countries, including areas of the Middle East.

by James Schlemmer

Upon graduating from college, most students jump into the workforce and start paying off loans.

But some students choose to put loans and job searching on hold for a two-year volunteer mission.

John Vreyens, a 1983 University graduate, served two Peace Corps missions in Africa and said there are numerous reasons to serve as a volunteer.

“You have the ability to make a contribution to the world and get to travel,” he said. “Some people are waiting to go to grad school or want a break.”

Vreyens, who is currently the director of international affairs for the agriculture department on campus, said serving also helps build a résumé and gives an opportunity to learn another language.

Vreyens is one of 1,162 current or former Peace Corps volunteers who are University alumni. The University also ranks 11th among large colleges with 65 alumni currently serving as volunteers.

Since 2003, volunteering by University alumni remained steady. In 2003, the University ranked 12th with 70 volunteers.

Peace Corps volunteers currently serve 27 consecutive months in 73 countries in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Central and South America, Europe and the Middle East.

Brian Green, the Minneapolis Peace Corps office’s regional recruiter, said the University has strong numbers because many of the returned volunteers stay active on campus.

“We have many returned Peace Corps on campus – a lot are faculty members,” he said.

Biological science senior Alicia Liebel served in West Africa from 2004 to 2006 and said the University really gives people strong helping skills.

“The ‘U’ really promotes service and helping others,” she said. “Midwestern states are the hardest working states.”

Liebel said she learned a lot, but the learning experience didn’t end when she left.

“It’s a chance to get out of the American way of life and the American schedule,” she said. “But when you leave, you start to appreciate those American freedoms.”

Liz Ward, who received her master’s degree from the University in 2006, said her experience in Costa Rica was something she always wanted to do.

“I wanted an opportunity to live abroad and live in a community rather than just travel abroad,” she said.

Ward said the volunteers get as much out of the experience as the people they help.

“It’s a way to connect the world person to person, one project at a time,” she said. “It creates a level playing field between the volunteers and those they are helping.”

Liebel said the experience taught those they met a lot about America as well.

“We would spend most of the time telling them why our country is bombing and why America does things,” she said. “It’s a chance to get the right information out that we are not all bad people.”

Vreyens said people who only travel abroad aren’t getting the complete experience.

“As a tourist you’re staying in a hotel, which is nice if you want to see the world and not interact with people,” he said. “(Peace Corps) is a way to deal with people who think different than you.”

According to Green, serving the required time commitment is a strong conflict for many people, but notes that it is necessary.

“It is a time commitment, but some people are excited about 27 months,” he said. “It may take you six months to be comfortable in an area and learn the language; the second year is much more successful.”