Returned Peace Corps Volunteers Reflect on “A Life Unimagined” at 2024 Story Slam

Peace Corps volunteers are taught to expect the unexpected. This is not arbitrary advice, as many volunteers find themselves with experiences they will hold onto for the rest of their lives. At the 2024 Peace Corps Story Slam: “A Life Unimagined,” part of Peace Corps Week, Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCV) shared five-minute stories recounting the unexpected moments that shaped their outlook on their service and their lives since. 

 This year’s theme of the story slam was inspired by UW alumnus Aaron Williams’ MBA ’73 memoir detailing how his leadership roles as senior official at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and as Peace Corps director from 2009 to 2012 allowed him to create unique, global connections. In welcoming remarks, Kate McCleary, associate dean of high impact practices, acknowledged the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of Madison’s role in encouraging new generations of Badgers to consider service.  

“One of the ways you spark the imaginations of the future volunteers is through sharing your own experiences–the good, the challenging, perhaps sometimes even the bizarre and wonderful–that come with forging international and intercultural connections and working tirelessly with communities to improve lives and create positive change,” said McCleary.  

Tanya Zastrow ’98 shared her story, “The 5lb Chocolate Bar.” During her service in Nicaragua from 2000 to 2002, Zastrow received a five-pound Hershey’s chocolate bar from her aunt and decided to raffle off the candy bar to students at the school she was volunteering at. The young girl who won the chocolate bar sold pieces of the bar to buy the socks and shoes she was required to wear for school. 

Another storyteller, Lori DiPrete Brown, director of Global Health and Human Ecology at the UWMadison School of Human Ecology, shared an excerpt from her memoir, Caminata: A Journey. She detailed her observations of Tegucigalpa, Honduras’ Central Park on her first day in the country and her encounter with a young girl who persistently sold her a rose.  

“When I think about my walk, it’s the Spanish word ‘caminata’ that comes to mind,” said Brown. “I was just 22. I wanted to try myself out, to walk in the world, to heal its wounds if I could. My caminata took me to the far corners of another country, places you wouldn’t go unless you were walking with someone who was born there.” 

This year’s Peace Corps Week also included events such as an Application Workshop, a round table at CALS Global Day, Peace Corps Info Sessions, and the Freeze for Food 5K and 10K. The university has previously been recognized on the Peace Corps list of historically top volunteer-producing colleges and universities, ranking as No. 2. 

Badgers interested in the Peace Corps can reach out to the campus recruiter, Hannah Bennett, at or (608)262-1121. More information can also be found at 


About the Peace Corps: The Peace Corps is an international service network of volunteers, community members, host country partners and staff who are driven by the agency’s mission of world peace and friendship. At the invitation of governments around the world, Peace Corps volunteers work alongside community members on locally prioritized projects in the areas of education, health, environment, agriculture, community economic development and youth development. Through service, members of the Peace Corps network develop transferable skills and hone intercultural competencies that position them to be the next generation of global leaders. Since President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps in 1961, more than 240,000 Americans have served in 142 countries worldwide. For more information, visit and follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.