Peace Corps a plus, volunteers stress


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UI alumna Fran Boyken lived for 27 months in the island nation of the Philippines, almost 8,000 miles away from her desk in the UI’s Study Abroad Office.

Boyken, 25, now works as the UI Peace Corps campus representative, conducting monthly meetings, making classroom visits, and interviewing applicants.

In the Philippines, Boyken co-taught with high-school English teachers. She lived with a host family in a compound of six homes, all containing extended family members. Ten people lived in her house.

“It was sometimes a rather lively place,” she said, in describing how the group gathered to do laundry, gossip, or cook. “At first, it was a very big adjustment.”

She worked in the UI Office of Study Abroad while she was a student and applied to be the office’s Peace Corps representative while still overseas.

“I interviewed about three days after I came back to Iowa City, so I was really jet lagged,” Boyken said.

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The application process for the two-year stint can last up to a year, making it a commitment, she said, and part of the reason for the lengthy process is the recent increase in applicants.

Recruitment nationwide reached 15,386 during 2009 — the largest number of applicants in more than a decade — and that represents an increase of 18 percent over last year’s recruitment, according to a Peace Corps press release.

From the stack of hopefuls that first approach representatives, approximately one-third will be accepted.

“In middle and high school, kids are really growing up in a culture that encourages giving back and traveling,” said Casey Lowman, the public-affairs assistant for the Chicago office. Another catalyst for the jump could be President Obama’s call to service, which was part of his 2008 campaign, she said.

The Peace Corps, a part of the U.S. government, sends volunteers to countries and communities that request assistance. The countries identify the skill sets they need, the largest ones being education, health, and business development. In total, more than 7,000 volunteers in 74 different host countries are working for the Peace Corps.

The majority of people working in the regional offices have volunteered abroad, Lowman said, demonstrating the emphasis the organization places on raising awareness back home.

Lowman’s office looks over the many campus representatives across the Midwest.

Before Boyken, Becky Johnson held the position of UI representative. Johnson, who works as a nurse in the UI Hospitals and Clinics, volunteered in Madagascar as a community health volunteer.

“You learn so much about other cultures and countries, so it is a goal to bring that back,” she said.

Boyken said she advises students to consider the organization as an opportunity to immerse themselves in a new culture, meet new people, and gain valuable skills.

“Every year more and more people recognize that the Peace Corps are a professional organization,” she said, and many of the returning volunteers she spoke with said the experience provided an edge to their résumé.

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