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Returned Volunteer Profile

Chris B.

“My work in Tanzania clearly paved the way to my current employment with the Foreign Agricultural Service at the USDA.”

Chris B headshot

1. What were your primary responsibilities during service?

For two years, I served as an Agriculture Volunteer in my village in the Southern Highlands of Tanzania. In this role, I engaged heavily with the primary and secondary schools nearby, worked hand-in-hand with the village government for project-related work, and built strong relationships with the agricultural leaders within the community who eventually assisted with project work and attended trainings with me. I also hosted a mothers’ group to cook and share American culture in my home.

In addition to my two years as an Agriculture Volunteer, I extended my service as a Peace Corps Volunteer leader living and working out of Dar es Salaam. In this role, I wore a great many hats and conducted a variety of activities, such as: resource creation and compilation, planning and implementing Volunteer trainings, providing Volunteer support including site visits, managing the Peace Corps Tanzania social media accounts, and assisting all of the offices/teams within Peace Corps Tanzania – monitoring and evaluation, grants, IT, training, sector-specific, etc.

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

As an Agriculture Volunteer in my village, my main activities and projects included:

  1. Environmental conservation and agriculture clubs at the primary and secondary schools nearby;
  2. Beekeeping trainings and field trip for the local beekeeping group;
  3. Trainings of trainers for sustainable agricultural practices (water management, composting, perma-gardening, etc.);
  4. A $10,000 Feed the Future-funded “Water Security to Enable Food Security” project that involved building rope pump wells and conducting well maintenance trainings for a newly established village water committee; rainwater catchment for every household, consisting of a gutter and barrel; and the creation of 80 home gardens with locally supplied drip irrigation kits.
Volunteer Chris B. gardening in Tanzania
Volunteer Chris B. gardening in Tanzania

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

Serving as an Agriculture Volunteer with the Peace Corps allowed me to connect my passion for conservation to a career in the field of agriculture. Not only did I gain hands-on work experience in agriculture, I also focused on climate smart agricultural practices like water management and soil conservation. I practiced leadership and project management and the cornucopia of skills needed for each.

My work in Tanzania clearly paved the way to my current employment with the Foreign Agricultural Service at the USDA. When I returned from service, I attended two Peace Corps career conferences. At the conference in Washington, D.C., I met folks from USDA/FAS and applied to a position that very day utilizing my noncompetitive eligibility. After a few months, I interviewed and received an offer letter for employment.

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

I am an international program specialist and team lead in the Scientific Exchanges branch of the Fellowship Programs Division, Office of Global Programs. I am a program and project manager and work to bring individuals and groups of amazingly passionate fellows to the U.S. and to send equally passionate American fellows abroad for their various programs. My Peace Corps service taught me so many skills that are instrumental to my work at USDA/FAS – public speaking, relationship management, communication, project management, intercultural competency, emotional intelligence, and leadership (just to name a few). I use these skills every day as a project manager working with individuals all over the world.

Volunteer Chris B. cooking pancakes in Tanzania
Volunteer Chris B. cooking pancakes in Tanzania

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

It is so important to continue sharing my stories as a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, and I try to take the time and space to share when opportunities arise. In the past, I participated in a storytelling event to talk about my “Water Security to Enable Food Security” project, I wrote blog posts both for my personal website and for the National Peace Corps Association, I gave presentations both in-person and virtually to various RPCV and student groups, and I talked with multiple individuals interested in becoming a Volunteer. I also participated as a mentor for the Peace Corps Prep Program with my alma mater.

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

When I returned from service, the readjustment allowance was critical to allowing me the time and space to find a job here in the U.S. and transition back into the American way of life. My parents welcoming me back to live with them for about six months was also a critical factor! (Thanks, Mom and Dad, for your ongoing support and love.) The RPCV career conferences were also extremely beneficial, allowing me not only to hone my resume, LinkedIn profile, and interviewing skills, but also the opportunity to meet dozens of potential employers. In the end, the RPCV career conference combined with my noncompetitive eligibility allowed me to find employment with the Foreign Agricultural Service – an agency and position that I am very proud to call my own.

Volunteer Chris B. ringing the bell at the close of service
Volunteer Chris B. ringing the bell at the close of service

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

Some of my best friendships began in the Peace Corps, and I maintain many of those today, both in-person routinely meeting up with my Peace Corps friends for climbing or to watch the Superbowl, and also over the phone with occasional trips to continue exploring and adventuring together with those who live across the country. I also stay in touch with a few folks from my village who have smartphones, and with the amazing Peace Corps employees I worked with as a Peace Corps Volunteer leader.

I am also actively involved in volunteering with the National Peace Corps Association affiliate group, Friends of Tanzania. I serve as a member of the projects committee, a member of their board, and I create a great many videos to showcase the various community activities and the important projects that the group supports on the ground in Tanzania with the donations from our members and the public.

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

For those returning from service, remember to take your time settling back into American life. Reverse culture shock can be quite overwhelming at times. I recommend staying busy, perhaps with a part-time job, volunteer work, spending time with family and friends. Try not to put too much pressure on yourself to find a career ASAP. If you set goals, proceed with intention and keep maintaining the energy to talk with other RPCVs and to network with those in your field of interest. LinkedIn is great with this—ask for some informational interviews! You’ll find your path sooner than you might think.

It took me about 6 months to get myself in order, hop back into the American way of life, and find a full-time job in my field of interest. Looking back, I’m impressed with how quickly I found that path and took the next step on my journey. We are always the hardest critics of ourselves; do your best to let go of the judgments and take one day at a time. Approach every encounter with curiosity and gratitude, and remember that people are only people through other people (the principle of “Ubuntu”). Take the time to stay connected, build new relationships, and appreciate the people in your life.