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Peace Corps Response Brings it Full Circle

By DENIS VIRI

Peace Corps Response Mexico, 2012-2013
Peace Corps Response Uganda, 2010-2011
Peace Corps India, 1970
Peace Corps Somalia, 1969

I first joined Peace Corps after graduating from college in 1969, having been totally intrigued with the notion of international service ever since President Kennedy proposed it in 1961. in college I had aspired to have a mainstream teaching career, Peace Corps proved to be a catalyst and bonding experience that altered my direction and future goals and to which I would ultimately return full circle.

Initially I served in Somalia (the last group to ever be posted there) and later in Southern India.   Finding my "niche" in that sometimes nebulous but intriguing area of functioning in a space between cultures, I continued to work and live on cultural margins when I returned to the US first as a teacher in an adolescent psychiatric facility and then later, for ten years, as an educator and program administrator on the Hopi and Pascua Yaqui Indian Reservations in Arizona.  Eventually, working as a researcher at Arizona State University´s Center for Indian Education and as Editor of the Journal of American Indian Education, I would seek solutions to the many problems I observed in Native education as an academic.

Naturally, as I neared retirement, I was not surprised to find myself checking out the Peace Corps website and ultimately starting my full application for Peace Corps service. In the end however, I opted for a more immediate selection and placement through Peace Corps Response (PCR), a program tailored for former and experienced Volunteers.

I accepted a one-year assignment in Uganda to mentor administrators in teacher training schools. I was truly exhilarated about receiving an assignment in the same region in Africa as my 1969 assignment, bringing me again full circle, albeit 40 years later.

Today, I am serving in a second PCR assignment in Mexico, as a University English teacher. Since I am from the region of the US-Mexico border (Tucson), I feel very much at home living in Mexico. I do not feel anything alien about the language and culture. I have long been intrigued by the character of mestizo culture of Mexico, a mix of Indigenous and European. My many years of work with Indigenous people in El Norte has deepened both my appreciation of and curiosity about the diversity of Indigenous peoples in Mexico, most of whom have carved a blended identity that is uniquely and proudly Mexican. I am equally impressed with the resilience of the many Indigenous groups who have managed to retain the strength of their native cultures and languages of origin within the wider realm of Mexican identity.

Although my PCR assignments have been in two unique cultural contexts, I have discovered a remarkable relevance and applicability of my own lifetime of experience in both of them. As such, I have felt so much more prepared and able than I did as a young Volunteer in 1969. Currently, I teach English to University professors who work in mathematics, engineering and physical sciences. I also assist them with writing and publishing scientific papers. This work has been most gratifying since I am able to share many aspects of my own academic background with learner-colleagues who are highly motivated and experts in their fields. In fact, I have become a learner myself in the various scientific disciplines that they bring to their discussions and presentations to my English classroom. As a side project, I have been working with the research administration at both my current site University and Arizona State University (where I hold emeritus status) to construct research collaboration in the areas of water resources management, environment, and immigration studies. Of course, my interest and experience in Indigenous education has also led to some involvement in teacher training and interaction with Indigenous communities in Hidalgo State.

I have found coming full circle from my seminal experience as a young Volunteer in 1969 to renewed Peace Corps service through Peace Corps Response as a new and exciting horizon which promises personal growth, learning, and opportunities to share enriched experience and skills.  Yes, I am "retired" in one aspect of my life but feel most fortunate that I can continue to share and serve in a most productive way, renewed and inspired by the goals of Peace Corps and sustained by my own great appreciation of and concern for the human condition in all its forms.

Last updated Jul 15 2014

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