From Study Abroad to Peace Corps Volunteer

A Peace Corps Volunteer in her Chico State shirt.
By Diana Callaway
May 1, 2024

For Arina Xiong, a Peace Corps Education Volunteer in Armenia, it was her alma mater, California State University, Chico, that taught her the importance of community service and sustainability through its study abroad opportunities. Colleges and universities remain key Peace Corps partners in our recruitment efforts, and academic study abroad programs can be a first step for many students on their path to becoming engaged global citizens.

In her third year of college, Xiong spent a semester in Thailand. For Xiong, whose family had immigrated from Thailand in the 1990s, the study abroad experience offered the opportunity to connect with her roots.

“Experiencing life in Thailand first-hand is different from hearing stories about it from my mom and dad. During that time, I learned more about my culture through a course on the different hill tribes in Thailand. I am Hmong, one of the ethnic groups in the hill tribes. The course included an overnight homestay at a Hmong village where I was able to connect with people who shared my background and spoke the same language, but were from a different part of the world,” Xiong said.

Studying abroad ignited Xiong’s curiosity about new cultures and her work with a global community left her seeking service opportunities that allowed for deeper relationship building.

“The experience made me realize that the Peace Corps was the right program for me. And the credential program also helped me develop professionally in preparation for the Peace Corps,” explained Xiong.

The Peace Corps offers U.S. citizens the opportunity to immerse themselves in a community in one of more than 60 countries. While living abroad, Volunteers serve side by side with local leaders to tackle the most pressing challenges of our generation: from climate change to food security, from access to quality healthcare to social inequities.

The first of the three goals of Peace Corps is to send skilled, diverse Volunteers to work with local leaders and community members at the invitation of our host country partners. The next two goals center on intercultural exchange – we aim to promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the people served and, conversely, to promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

Study abroad programs often embrace these same goals as they provide opportunities for students to grow as they experience and learn from a new culture through field trips, internships, volunteering, and service-learning.

“Having study abroad programs on your resume can help make you a competitive candidate for the Peace Corps,” Peace Corps Regional Recruiter Maja Biggs shared. “I work with students to highlight those experiences and the skills they learned on their resume, which is a key part of the Peace Corps application.”

Among medium-sized enrollment universities, Chico State, Xiong’s alma mater, holds the No. 11 spot as a top producer of Peace Corps Volunteers. The agency relies on schools like Chico State to provide the next wave of Volunteers. In a world facing unprecedented global obstacles, solutions require the diverse global perspectives that come from a Volunteer corps of people with the skills and training partners are asking for in education, water sanitation projects, health awareness campaigns, and many more locally prioritized projects.

“Global learning and engagement is a high-impact educational practice and is one of the strategic priorities of the University,” said Dr. Jennifer Gruber, Associate Vice President for International Education & Global Engagement (IEGE) at Chico State. “We’re very proud to be recognized as a top producer for Peace Corps Volunteers. This recognition, as well as our long-time study abroad national ranking with the Institution of International Education among masters-granting institutions, reflects those values and campus support for international programs and service-learning opportunities for our students, domestically and globally,” said Gruber.

The Peace Corps can provide fertile opportunities to explore different cultures and potential career paths while giving college graduates partial or full deferment of student loan payments. After two years of service, Volunteers qualify for a $10,000 transition fund. Peace Corps Volunteers who have completed service also enjoy hiring preference for careers in the federal government.

Peace Corps Recruiter Biggs also emphasizes the Paul D. Coverdell Fellows program to students considering Peace Corps service. “There are over 100 universities participating in Coverdell Fellows offering 25-100 percent off tuition on a variety of graduate degrees,” Biggs notes.

Xiong, who works with high school students to increase their English language skills in Armenia, and who is almost halfway through her service, says her favorite part of Peace Corps service is working with her counterpart, a teacher who deeply cares for her students.

“They are so sweet and thoughtful. I learn so much from being around both my counterpart and students,” Xiong reflects. “Growing up, my dad has always encouraged my siblings and I to expand our vision of the world by traveling and experiencing new things. It is something that he has always wanted to do but couldn't.”

While deeply immersed in the second goal of Peace Corps, Xiong is already considering the third goal as she reflects on what’s next. “I want to continue working in a field that will allow me to work directly with people and build a positive connection with those around me.”

A Peace Corps Volunteer and her counterpart in Armenia.