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The Peace Corps in the United States

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People choose to do different things with their lives, and spend years trying to find themselves, but according to Mahatma Gandhi “the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” Over 210,000 volunteers have lost themselves in service through the Peace Corps.

President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps by executive order on March 1, 1961. Since then, the Peace Corps has served 139 different countries, and accepted volunteers from all ages and backgrounds. One of those volunteers, Gloria Freeland, assistant professor of journalism at Kansas State University, said “37 years ago I began the adventure of my life.”

Freeland volunteered for the program in Ecuador from 1976-1978. After initially being rejected, Freeland wrote a six page response to the Peace Corps describing her experiences and qualifications. After she was accepted in November 1975, she was on a plane to Ecuador almost immediately. During her first week in Ecuador there was a distant earthquake and the government changed hands in a bloodless coup. These two things that would seem very scary hardly fazed Freeland as she remembered her trip.

Freeland stayed in the capital city of Quito for six weeks to transition and learn Spanish, the official language of Ecuador. Freeland then moved to Salinas, Ecuador to begin her official work. While volunteering, Freeland taught English and did sporadic radio spots on health and nutrition.

“It’s hard to say if I made a difference. When I first went down I was idealistic and was going to change the world,” said Freeland, “now, I think that change is possible through individual relationships.”

Although Freeland loved her experiences through the Peace Corps, she also felt somewhat cast off when she first arrived. According to Freeland, you have to be very flexible and sometimes make your own projects and work. These feelings were also shared by Steven Graham, assistant to the dean and director of the college of agriculture at Kansas State.

Graham was volunteered for the Peace Corps for three years as a grain storage worker and extension agent in Benin, West Africa. Graham provided the technical expertise to masons who built cement silos and grain dryers. According to Graham, the farmers paid for the building materials and the cost of the masons, but his technical expertise was free of charge. Although he felt that his work was successful, it took time to make everything work well.

“It took some months of patience, meeting people, and networking before I found some farmers who were ready and able to fund the grain storage systems,” Graham said in an email interview. “You just learn lots of patience and people skills.”

Although the process can be frustrating, Graham and Freeland both said that they would not trade their experiences for the world. Freeland wished she had stayed longer, but said that in the time she spent in Ecuador she gained a much greater understanding and respect for foreign cultures, as well as a better understanding of what it means to be a minority.

For Graham, Peace Corps gave him many things, including “a world view, friends for life, a wonderful entry into K-State as a student, and a great working life.”

Lukus Ebert, senior in sociology, sat in during Freeland’s presentation to learn about all he could gain from the Peace Corps. The idea of graduating and starting the next chapter by joining the Peace Corps is extremely exciting for Ebert. Ebert just finished the application process for the program, and hopes to end up volunteering in South America, specifically Paraguay. He decided to join the program for many reasons, but is most excited about “the possibility of changing lives and learning new things.”

That excitement is shared by Chase Fortune, senior in public relations. Fortune decided that packing up and moving for two years would be too difficult for him personally, but he still wanted to get involved and change the world. Fortune decided to spend seven weeks of his summer this past year volunteering in Uganda with David Westfall, Kansas State graduate with a PhD in sociology.

“I went to Uganda hoping to change the world, but I came back and realized that they changed my life more than I changed theirs,” Fortune said.

One thing that each volunteer has learned is that by going out to change the lives of others, they are actively changing their own.

“People here worry about things that don’t really matter in the bigger scheme of things” Graham said in an email interview. “People throw too much away and waste too much; life moves too fast and people do not have time to visit.”

Culture shock was worse returning home for both Freeland and Graham. On her return, Freeland felt that people were spoiled and ungrateful, and Graham noticed that more than anything else, people thought more about themselves than anything or anyone else.

The greatest thing that Graham learned from his adventures was that people must always remember that “we give, we receive, and then we need to give again.”

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