For decades, the University of Wisconsin–Madison has been among the top institutions for recruiting Peace Corps volunteers. Today, a student group called Peace Corps Ambassadors is helping to sustain that tradition, while providing additional support for prospective volunteers.
“It’s nice to have a small cohort of folks who are going through the same phenomenon, worried about their choices, not sure how to word [their] essays,” says Peace Corps campus recruiter Eric Luckey.
The Peace Corps Ambassadors group was formed before Luckey became the campus recruiter two years ago. Now, he wants to raise the group’s visibility among students, by promoting more Peace Corps networking and hosting small-group bonding activities.
Meetings provide a forum for the 20 to 30 students in the group to talk about the Peace Corps and their future after graduation.
“Having conversations with students about their fears, their concerns, their expectations,” Luckey says, “I think those are all, if not as important, perhaps even more important than the day-to-day recruiting work that I do here on campus.”
Such conversations create a comfortable environment for peer support, Luckey says. It is in this environment where UW–Madison seniors Brieanne Tingley and Lucia Vitale have found a new sense of community.
Tingley, who is majoring in viola performance and biological aspects of conservation, hopes to pursue the environmental programs offered through the Peace Corps.
Vitale, an international studies and Italian major with an education policy certificate, has her sights set on an assignment in youth and community development or education.
For Tingley and Vitale, the Peace Corps offers unique opportunities for their post-grad plans.
“This is the last time in my life when I don’t have any responsibilities,” Vitale says. “It’s the last time in my life when I can pick up and go somewhere for two years.”
Although both say their family and friends have been apprehensive about their decisions to apply to the Peace Corps, Tingley and Vitale view the Peace Corps as their best option.
Tingley has seen the Peace Corps as her destiny since the third grade. Since her childhood, she says, she has worked hard toward the opportunity to escape the bubble of her immediate world.
Vitale sees volunteering with the Peace Corps as one of the best ways to gain experience before continuing her education toward becoming a professor.
Through the Peace Corps Ambassadors, Tingley and Vitale have found help from peers, as well as Luckey, leading up and during the application process.
Tingley says this sets Peace Corps Ambassadors apart from other groups.
During her application process, Tingley says the group has given her two things – “the peer support, because it’s such a small group of people that are interested in it. Most of your friends look at you like you’re absolutely crazy. And then, secondly, Eric has just been a godsend.”
Both Tingley and Vitale credit Luckey as a valuable mentor, particularly in helping to ease the transition to the Peace Corps new application format. The application includes only two parts: an in-depth three-page resume and a personal statement.
Applicants also may now view a complete list of available positions around the world online.
“[This] is completely new,” Tingley says. “So then you can kind of tailor your resume to the types of programs you’re looking for.”
Through the Peace Corps Ambassadors, Luckey has been able to draw on his Peace Corps experience in Mongolia to provide additional context and meaning to the application process for the students.
Even though the new application aims towards accessibility and timeliness, Vitale prefers the previous form.
The previous, longer application form, she says, “weeded out the people who didn’t really want to do it.”
Both Tingley and Vitale, who initially filled out the longer form, say that only the people most passionate about joining the Peace Corps were able to complete the form in its entirety.
The Peace Corps Ambassadors group aims to meet every three weeks. Luckey encourages anyone who might be interested to come, even those who haven’t made up their minds about joining the Peace Corps.
Tingley recently interviewed for an environmental education position in Paraguay. Vitale says she looks forward to reapplying for positions for the upcoming deadline in April.
For these two prospective Peace Corps volunteers, encouragement from the Peace Corps Ambassadors have helped to make their journey of applying, interviewing and waiting much more enjoyable.
“It’s refreshing to be surrounded by people where this really excites them too, and it’s something you can feel only by being in this group,” Vitale says. “It’s a very safe and comfortable space.”
— by Jennifer Anderson