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Peace Corps Volunteer
2 years, 3 months
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Peace Corps Response
Up to 12 months
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3-6 months
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Featured Participant Profile

Andrea M.

“My service inspired me to pursue a degree in teaching English, and I gained Ukrainian friendships that I cherish.”

Andrea Garner Headshot

1. What got you interested in the Peace Corps, specifically the Response program?

The Peace Corps was a perfect opportunity to blend my commitment to volunteer service and my passion for experiencing new places. I was approaching 50 and ready to break away from my desk job and totally immerse myself in another culture. My Peace Corps Volunteer experience was challenging due to language and cultural confusion, yet it was also 100% rewarding and led me to return to service as a Peace Corps Response (PCR) Volunteer a decade later. As a PCR Volunteer, I found the short-term nature and professional focus a good fit to continue my service without a two-year commitment.

2. What was your role, and what project(s) did you work on?

As a Community Development Volunteer, I was assigned to a rural community development NGO in western Ukraine. I worked closely with my NGO team to build a regional, collaborative network to provide support for development projects. This effort led us to create a volunteer program modeled after the Peace Corps, with significant support from U.S. organizations. Over a two-year period, we trained and supported 20 Ukrainian volunteers to guide local projects in their communities. After my service, I returned to the NGO to revisit the volunteer program, leading to updates and renewed promotional efforts.

Andrea Mason Garner NGO visit 2016
Andrea worked closely with an NGO to build a regional, collaborative network to support development projects in Ukraine.

3. How did you leverage your previous professional experience and skills?

My previous skills in financial and operations auditing, combined with project management, provided a solid framework for effective collaboration with my colleagues. For example, my financial and operations background helped in navigating and establishing best practices for the NGO as we focused on accountability and sustainability. And my project management experience helped me juggle multiple, concurrent projects, build relationships, and support project implementation. Additionally, I periodically provided training in project management to community leaders and activists.

4. How did your collaborative work with your community create a lasting impact for the community you served?

In addition to the long-term volunteer program my counterparts and I launched, I collaborated with colleagues on other community projects. I co-facilitated trainings and also supported the planning, design, and implementation of an extended community economic development plan for decentralization in which Ukraine would provide additional power and resources to local governments. In my free time, I led a community English club that continues today.

Andrea leads a workshop during her service in Ukraine.
Andrea leads a workshop during her service in Ukraine.

5. How did the skills you developed during service enrich your professional development?

My services provided an open and inviting new window to view and experience the world beyond the U.S. I became more active in international issues and have continued to serve local NGOs focused on immigration and housing. A direct tie between my Peace Corps service and professional development relates to English language teaching. As a community volunteer, I was often asked to tutor English language learners, which I did, but without any formal training. After my service, I earned a graduate degree in teaching English, and I have been working with international students for the past several years.

6. What strategies did you use to meet the challenges you encountered?

My biggest challenge was speaking the local language. Although I worked diligently with a tutor, I struggled to move beyond an intermediate level. Fortunately, my NGO team spoke English, but I missed forming strong relationships with non-English speaking community members. I formed a support group of English speakers that I could rely upon for assistance if needed. Most group members were advanced English-speaking students interested in improving their language skills.

7. What benefits did you gain from serving?

My service inspired me to pursue a degree in teaching English, and I gained Ukrainian friendships that I cherish. I remain in touch with several individuals including the director of the NGO I supported, my tutor, my colleagues, and former students. We have an informal book/movie club that provides a foundation for robust discussions. I gained clarity on my personal values and realized that I’m at my best when I’m helping others.

8. What would you say to someone considering Peace Corps Response?

The Peace Corps Response program design is well-suited for someone looking for a way to make an important contribution without the two-year commitment. The short-term nature of the assignments allows a Volunteer to focus on a specific professional outcome. Give it a try!