State Department forum explores ‘Lasting Value of Peace Corps Service’

March 15, 2019

WASHINGTON – Peace Corps Director Jody Olsen joined returned Peace Corps volunteers and members of the diplomatic community March 12 for a forum at the State Department entitled “The Lasting Value of Peace Corps Service.”

Hosted by the State Department employee affinity group Returned Peace Corps Volunteers @ State, the event was held in the Dean Acheson Auditorium and livestreamed for staff at U.S. embassies around the world.

The roundtable conversation and Q&A focused on how Peace Corps service shapes the personal and professional lives of returned volunteers.

“Serving in a rural area, being the only American that hundreds of people will ever meet—that is a really powerful thing,” said Emily Armitage, who was a Peace Corps volunteer in Bulgaria before joining the State Department.

Armitage recalled visiting with the people of her village in the months before Bulgaria entered the European Union and how valuable it was to be able to listen to their concerns and hear about their hopes for the future of their country.

“Take every opportunity that’s offered to you as a volunteer,” said Armitage, sharing guidance she offers to undergraduate students who are considering the Peace Corps. “We will never have that same opportunity to integrate.”

Asked about skills he developed during his time as a volunteer in Cameroon, State Department employee John Underriner cited the resiliency and resourcefulness he discovered while facing challenges far away from home and family.

Those experiences have stayed with him throughout his career, he said. “You needed to develop different ways to do things, different ways to communicate: cross-cultural, language, and non-verbal communication,” said Underriner.

Katherine Harris, also a member of the State Department staff, talked about how she stays in touch with the people she lived and worked with as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic via the apps on her cell phone.

She said hearing from her friends and neighbors in the Caribbean, and their children, enriches her life here in Washington: “They reach out to me just to update me on their daily lives—it’s a connection that can never break.”

Director Olsen expressed her gratitude to the State Department for its continued support for Peace Corps programming and its recognition of the many contributions made by the more than 235,000 returned volunteers across the U.S.

“All of you believed in the power of volunteers to reach out to people at the local level,” said Olsen. “Thank you for the commitment to a lifetime of service that all of you have made.”

This week’s event was the first in what the agency hopes will be a series of conversations with returned volunteers from across the country to gain insights on the impact of Peace Corps service on their lives.

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 235,000 Americans of all ages have served in 141 countries worldwide.

For more information, visit peacecorps.gov and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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