Students gathered to hear Peace Corps Acting Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet and a panel of four returned Peace Corps volunteers on Sunday. The Colleges have a strong relationship with the Peace Corps, with close to 200 HWS graduates having joined the Peace Corps since its founding and 12 currently serving as volunteers in Cameroon, Madagascar, Panama, Peru, Romania and Tanzania.
Mark D. Gearan, president of the Colleges and former director of the Peace Corps, welcomed the panelists and briefly spoke of his own experience with the Peace Corps.
Dove Russo, a Geneva native and current Peace Corps recruiter, gave an introduction to the organization and its mission. A returned Peace Corps volunteer from Cape Verde (2008-10), he also participated as a panelist, along with Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Sociology Christopher Annear, who volunteered in Zambia from 1997-1999; Nicholas Hoagland ’07, returned Peace Corps volunteer from Guinea 2007-2009; and Dr. Meredith Waheed, of Lifetime Medical Associates, Seneca Falls, a returned Peace Corps Volunteer from Afghanistan 1978-1979. The panelists exchanged stories and answered questions of why they joined and what they’ve gained.
“I heard about the Peace Corps at a very young age and I never outgrew the idea. I was always excited by the opportunity and nothing else was ever as exciting,” says Waheed, who taught English while volunteering in Afghanistan.
Much different from Waheed, Hoagland didn’t imagine himself as a Peace Corps volunteer until coming to the Colleges.
“My freshman year I heard President Gearan talk about the Peace Corps and I turned to my friend and said there’s no way I’m doing that; but as I learned more about it and understood the values the Peace Corps embodies, my mind began to change,” says Hoagland, who currently is a graduate student at the University of Rochester. “After going abroad and talking to professors about their past experience in the Peace Corps, my mind was fully changed and I applied my senior year.”
Each panelist spoke of the daily life that came along with being a Peace Corps volunteer – the different people they met and developed relationships with, the places they visited, and the cultures they were able to be a part of while getting to know themselves in the process. The volunteers made clear that the cross cultural exchange was not one sided and they felt they gained just as much, if not more than they gave.
“It’s not just friendships, it’s being a part of people’s lives and them becoming a part of yours,” says Annear when talking about the friendships he made in Zambia. He is one of many faculty members who has been a volunteer in the Peace Corps.
“These are only opportunities and skills you can get through experience; they just cannot be taught in a classroom,” adds Russo.
After the panelists spoke, Hessler-Radelet spoke of the efforts the Peace Corps has made to continue serving to its fullest ability. She also shared her own experience as a volunteer. “It’s about caring enough to come to another country, live among their people and help their people,” she explains. “The bonds built between countries because of this are withstanding.”
Hessler-Radelet encouraged the students in the audience to apply, remarking on the similarities between the Peace Corps’ mission and the Colleges’. “Make a difference, take a risk, touch lives and lives will touch you.”