Profile: Peter Arellanes
Some of my first memories are from Peru. My father was a Peace Corps administrator there in the 1960s, so of course the family went with him. My parents never really pressured me to join the Peace Corps or follow any particular path. But I think I got my internationalist perspective from them. Apparently, so did my sister: She served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ecuador a few years after I served.
I was raised in Sacramento, California, and went to the University of California, Davis. I wasn’t super-focused in college (playing soccer was at the top of my list of priorities), but I had a vague interest in economics and majored in agricultural economics. My friends who were business majors ended up working for big corporations in urban centers, and that’s what I was thinking about doing, too.
As graduation approached, I figured I would spend my life working fifty weeks a year, forty hours a week. But I felt like I had never really been anywhere or done anything. That’s why I went into the Peace Corps. I wanted to go to Africa because my parents had worked in Latin America, and I wanted to do my own thing. But it couldn’t have worked out any better. I was assigned to a rural community in Honduras, where I worked on small-scale agribusiness projects with women’s cooperatives. My main project was helping a group of women market cold cream they made out of beeswax.
I came out of the Peace Corps interested in agriculture in a way that I had never been previously because I got a chance to work in a rural setting with farmers and discovered that I really liked it. It was also my opportunity to become fluent in Spanish. Being of Mexican origin, I was glad to live immersed in a Latin culture, although I recognize now how different Honduran and Mexican cultures are.
When I came back to the States, I won a full scholarship to attend Cornell University, where I earned a master’s degree in agricultural economics. I am positive that I was awarded that scholarship because of my Peace Corps service. It made me realize how much my Peace Corps experience had added to my resume. I think that, compared to somebody who has just earned his or her bachelor’s degree, you just have a lot more to offer.
Everything I’ve done professionally since the Peace Corps has built on that experience. I now work in export sales for a grape growing company. The job I have today is really based on the skills I picked up in the Peace Corps. I encourage young people to do something that’s going to broaden their perspectives. A lot of people won’t consider joining the Peace Corps because they don’t want to sacrifice two years of income, but I never had to take an entry-level job when I got back. I came in at a mid-management level. Professionally, it can do nothing but help you.
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