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Returned Volunteer Profile

Andrew H.

“Being able to serve others on behalf of your country is an honor and privilege. Make it known that anyone can do it.”

Andrew H Headshot

1. What were your primary responsibilities during service?

I was part of an organizational and community assistance program, which supported non-governmental organizations (NGOs) or other community-based organizations to not only strengthen the skills of their staff but also advance their organizational missions. I was stationed in the northern portion of Kazakhstan. My primary responsibilities were to train and support a local NGO focused on HIV/AIDS awareness and destigmatization and help prevent intravenous drug use. This included efforts in grantwriting, marketing and communications; awareness and outreach efforts; and supporting the wonderful staff at the NGO.

2. What projects did you collaborate on with your community?

The depth of projects ranged greatly, but notable collaborations included university summer camps, helping establish cultural and language groups at a local library (which later became an American Corner), and business and entrepreneurship training for women in local villages. Peace Corps also helped coordinate PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) training and conferences which brought together Volunteers and local professionals in collaborative settings. With each of these, I was lucky to be invited to work with a local leader or group already doing amazing work in education, literacy, or women's empowerment.

I also joined a rock band with a fellow Volunteer and some other friendly local musicians to play a few small festivals for area youth that helped the whole "promote a better understanding" goal of Peace Corps in a fun way.

3. How did Peace Corps service influence your professional path and development?

While it did not lead to a career in a rock band, it cemented a lifelong curiosity about the world. Peace Corps also made me reflect on how I could learn more and be part of positive change in my own country through service to others. There were challenges to Peace Corps service, but the challenges felt compelling and fulfilling. When I returned to the States, I knew I wanted to follow those challenges to push myself to grow. I felt I could adapt my skills, interests and lessons learned in Peace Corps to much of the mission-driven work in the nonprofit sector, so I pursued this work wholeheartedly.

4. How do you use some of the skills you honed during service in your current job?

Since Peace Corps service, I have worked primarily in nonprofit organizations in areas of youth, education, equity and inclusion, health and human services, wellness and more. Responsibilities have ranged from development director to CEO to consultant to currently, an executive director at the YMCA. My role utilizes a number of skills influenced by my service, including intercultural competency, grantwriting, community building, group dynamics, and adaptive leadership.

On a more human level, my first year of Peace Corps recalibrated my idealism; it taught me to listen first and act second. Applying what I thought was a solution to a problem was met with rejection or indifference, mostly because it wasn’t built upon understanding, cooperation, or collaboration. Those missteps were on me, and it taught me some valuable lessons. Humility and perspective are vital in finding authentic community solutions and definitely applies to nonprofit work.

5. How have you shared your experience to help those at home understand the value of Peace Corps service and communities abroad?

When an opportunity to fulfill the third goal comes up, especially in new or unexpected ways, it gives me a burst of joy. When appropriate, I’ll share anecdotes of times in the field with my office mates or friends or whenever someone shows an interest in service work. My hope is that awareness of Peace Corps service can help us become better people, citizens and neighbors. I’ve also enjoyed making (and sharing) some dishes (borscht, shashlik or plov) or drinks from Kazakhstan with friends; food seems to create understanding pretty effectively.

6. What Peace Corps benefits have been useful to you?

I was fortunate enough to take part in a Peace Corps Coverdell Fellows program at the University of Pennsylvania Fels Institute of Government. The graduate-level courses provided me with a broad range of insight into leadership, and the Peace Corps Fellows financial support allowed me to attend an institute I otherwise would not have been able to afford. This experience encouraged me to later complete my master’s degree in nonprofit leadership at the University of San Diego.

While I did not take advantage of the noncompetitive eligibility, a few of my cohort members did and seem to be contributing their expertise to various civil service efforts in meaningful ways.

As for the readjustment allowance, I misplaced a check totaling half of my allowance on the plane ride home after my close of service. Peace Corps quickly sent out a replacement check, and the lasting memory of that kindness had more of an impact on me than the actual sum of money.

7. How have your remained involved with the Peace Corps community following service?

Continued communications and connections with fellow Volunteers and friends made in-country are a real delight. Periodic life updates, texts, or social media messages are typically where these happen, though big hugs happen whenever we get to see one another in-person. I stay in contact with my “boss” from my primary organization as well as one of my host family members through social media. I always wish for more, and hope to revisit Kazakhstan sometime in the coming years. The San Diego Peace Corps Association holds great events and activities, and I enjoyed some of those while living in Southern California.

8. What advice/tips do you have for Volunteers just returning from their service?

Keep your mind and heart open to possibility. Become educated on the tangible benefits of being a RPCV like noncompetitive eligibility, tuition support, etc., and know that while it’s easy and cheesy to begin sentences with, “That reminds me of a time during Peace Corps…” it’s also vital that you share your experience and the joys you had learning from people around the world.

Being able to serve others on behalf of your country is an honor and privilege. Make it known that anyone can do it.