Passion for politics, service and exploration account for GW students’ exceptional Peace Corps service, say students and alumni.
By Menachem Wecker
Stephen Andrew Wood, B.A. ’06, was ready for “a change of pace” after living in Washington for five years, so he joined the Peace Corps. From 2007 to 2009, Mr. Wood, a philosophy major, lived in West Africa and worked as an agriculture extension agent, working with farmers, gardeners and tree orchard owners to implement techniques to improve soil fertility and crop yield.
Mr. Wood is one of many alumni and students to volunteer with the corps. In the Peace Corps’ recently released annual ranking, GW came in first among medium-sized universities producing corps volunteers with 53 undergraduate alumni currently serving overseas.
“I think GW students are so highly represented in the Peace Corps because of the international feel of the school and the political sentiment you develop going to school in downtown D.C.,” says Mr. Wood. “Peace Corps, after all, is about wanting to experience the world as it is and to help people while doing it. GW students learn to be active and to have strong beliefs about global affairs. Joining the Peace Corps is a way of continuing that learning and expressing those beliefs.”
“The ranking gives compelling testimony to the culture of public service that is one of GW’s great strengths,” says GW President Steven Knapp. “It starts with the passionate interest in solving real-world problems that our students bring with them and that is one of the reasons they choose to attend a university in the heart of our nation’s capital. But that interest grows stronger and clearer as students learn from each other, from our extraordinarily service-oriented faculty, and from the opportunities for civic engagement that the University and the city afford them.”
This is the second year in a row that GW has ranked at the top of the list of medium-sized schools. The statistic does not surprise Tim Savoy, a sophomore studying international affairs.
“GW and Peace Corps are compatible in so many ways due to our location as next-door neighbors here in D.C.,” says Mr. Savoy, who is interning at the Peace Corps’ Inter-American and Pacific region and hopes to one day become a volunteer. “The students who come to GW have a thirst for discovering what is out there in the world. GW is full of interesting, diverse students, who share a passion for the world, and Peace Corps allows us to get hands-on experience working in the international sector, whether through teaching, public health, agriculture, business or other international work.”
Bryan Schaaf, M.P.H. ’05, a former Peace Corps volunteer, who served in Haiti from 2000 to 2002, and a policy analyst at the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Population Refugees and Migration, also finds the announcement gratifying if unsurprising.
“I think that students who gravitate to Washington, D.C., tend to be globally oriented, or if they weren’t already, they will be by the time they complete their studies,” says Mr. Schaff. “Peace Corps is a natural fit for people who want to learn and serve at the same time, an opportunity to apply what a person has learned for the betterment of a community.”
Additionally, Peace Corps volunteers bring back important knowledge, skills and experiences when they return to the United States, says Mr. Schaff. “It’s welcome news. I hope the numbers of GW Peace Corps volunteers only increase as time goes on.”
Alumni have also found their service life changing and eye opening.
“I’ve never felt true need. You come into the Peace Corps with the intention of learning how to live off of minimum wage, and how to modestly conduct yourself for the next two years, always thinking about what you don’t have anymore,” wrote Saira Khan, B.A. ’08, earlier this year on her blog Never Never Land, which is about her Peace Corps service in Saint Kitts and Nevis.
“In reality, this isn’t just about learning how to live without things; it’s about realizing and appreciating how much we do have,” Ms. Khan continues. “I might have to deal with inefficient utility companies for the next two years, but I will go home to electronic billing from the comfort of my own home. But the people here will still be sitting and waiting at the electricity company until one of the clerks decides to have time for them.”
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