The New Retirement: Peace Corps in the Golden Years
As Judy Frey approached her 60th birthday, she felt she needed a change in her life. For 42 years, Frey worked as a manager and training professional. In Spring 2001, Frey knew her life was changing, and she was determined to make it change for the better.
“I asked myself, what did I want and need for myself at this time in my life?” Frey said. “I decided that I wanted to find a 'new way' to continue doing the things I loved: teaching, learning, traveling, experiencing cultural differences, and challenging myself.”
When Frey thought about opportunities within the Peace Corps, she felt that it provided the perfect opportunity at her age to achieve that value and purpose for her life. “Becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer just seemed to fit the bill and met all those needs,” said Frey. “So I sold my home and closed my business and became a Peace Corps Volunteer.”
Frey is currently serving as an English teacher at a university in China. Currently, Frey teaches five oral English classes, for over 12 hours each week, to first-year university students majoring in English. In the university’s first term, because of Frey’s business background, she taught Business English.
On top of her class instruction, Frey has chosen to do a secondary project conducting HIV/AIDS educational lectures. “I volunteered to give the HIV/AIDS training, as little, if any, training has been done in this area and HIV/AIDS is increasing in China,” Frey said.
Her lectures will be given in English and translated to Mandarin Chinese to avoid confusion, according to Frey. Frey intends to ensure her work lasts beyond her two-year tenure in the Peace Corps so future students will be able to reap the same benefits.
“I hope to leave the university with the script of my lecture and we plan to video tape one of my lectures,” Frey said. “After I have left the university in July 2003, they will be able to continue the training.”
Teaching in China has brought the discrepancies in global education into focus for Frey. Though she had experience in corporate training environments in the United States, she was confronted with a completely different scenario upon entering the university in China.
Many of her students are from rural China and come from poor families, according to Frey. If they want to have options for their future, they need to get a college degree. To do that, however, they must pass the national college entrance exam, and the competition is fierce. As a result, a large focus of education in the country has shifted to memorizing information and “teaching to the test,” Frey said. Frey feels she can help in teaching English but, while doing so, also teach her students to "think" and not just memorize facts.
Frey is one of the oldest Volunteers in the Peace Corps but, according to her, that is simply because the older crowd has not discovered it yet. In China, Frey said she her age played a distinct advantage compared to most of the younger Volunteers.
“Many of the younger volunteers have never taught before, let alone taught in another culture,” Frey said. “Coming to the Peace Corps with life experience can definitely make your job assignment easier.”
"More older people should explore the possibilities of the Peace Corps for retirement or before," Frey said. “It will keep them alive: mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually as I believe it is doing for me.
“It's a wonderful way to ‘give back’ and at the same time continue to gain valuable benefits for yourself. Peace Corps life is always full of surprises, so life continues to be interesting. But probably most of all, when we get to the autumn of our lives, it's important to still have a sense of purpose.”
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