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Tuesday, July 3, 2018
This Independence Day, Peace Corps volunteers around the world share what it means to be American
WASHINGTON – Grilling hot dogs, line dancing and games of capture the flag may not be traditional summertime activities in Albania, but Peace Corps volunteer Cassandra LeBlanc of Sunrise, FL plans to share them with her community on July 4 anyway.
Since its founding in 1961, Peace Corps’ mission and goals have remained unchanged. American holidays, like Independence Day, present opportunities for volunteers around the world to fulfill the agency’s second goal: To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
Sharing the culture and diversity of America goes much deeper than holiday celebrations, as LeBlanc, a health education volunteer of Haitian descent, knows from experience.
“A lot of people [in Albania] don’t believe I'm American at first and it takes a lot of explanation. There are people in [here] who have never seen a person of color before, and I understand that I am the first,” says LeBlanc.
“I often use this as an opportunity to educate others, [to explain] that ‘American culture’ is the combination of different traditions and customs and is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world because our population was built by immigrants.” LeBlanc is excited to host an American-style barbecue at her partner school, filled with celebratory activities and a brief U.S. history lesson.
As of 2017, 31 percent of Peace Corps volunteers self-identified as belonging to an ethnic or racial minority. This number is up from 20 percent in 2012. For many volunteers, service abroad means sharing lessons on America’s racial and cultural diversity, along with the more traditional work of teaching nutrition and English classes.
In Morocco, Young Kwon, a youth development volunteer from St. Louis, MO, has started sharing her Korean-American heritage by teaching a Korean language and culture class, as well as an “around the world” English class. She wrote a blog post about her experience.
“In my ‘around the world’ English class,” says Kwon, “we try to learn about different cultures around the world, explore different cross-cultural topics and discuss the effects of stereotypes, how we can challenge ourselves to dispel the myths that perpetuate stereotypes and how to be respectful toward cultures that are different.”
As a Mexican-American volunteer serving in the Dominican Republic, Ray Sánchez of Dayton, NV hopes to change his community’s perceptions, not just about him, but about themselves.
“I love showing the people of this country that someone of color can make positive changes and help them achieve their goals,” says Sánchez. “I’d rather have the people here see me as a real life example of what someone with a similar background is capable of doing. I would rather they begin to think that it is not the color of skin that matters but instead what is inside a person’s mind and heart.”
For LeBlanc in Albania, Peace Corps’ second goal is personal. She says her community loves learning about her family and friends from back home in the U.S. “I love showing them all of the pictures of my loved ones, and explaining how we are all Americans. It doesn’t matter that we all look different. That’s the beauty of the United States: that people come from all walks of life.”
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About the Peace Corps: The Peace Corps sends Americans with a passion for service abroad on behalf of the United States to work with communities and create lasting change. Volunteers develop sustainable solutions to address challenges in education, health, community economic development, agriculture, environment and youth development. Through their Peace Corps experience, volunteers gain a unique cultural understanding and a life-long commitment to service that positions them to succeed in today's global economy. Since President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps in 1961, more than 230,000 Americans of all ages have served in 141 countries worldwide.