After taking about 50 Malawian students to the zoo, graduate student Ty Lawson watched as they screamed and chased after zebras, animals they hadn’t seen before.
From his two years of service in the Peace Corps, this is one of many stories Lawson remembers about his experience in Malawi.
Lawson was among several Peace Corps alumni present at an informational meeting Tuesday evening encouraging students to apply to the Peace Corps.
Peace Corps Deputy Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet spoke about her experiences in Samoa with her husband at the meeting.
Hessler-Radelet said there is a huge demand for volunteers.
“Countries still ask for Peace Corps (volunteers) much more than we can deliver,” Hessler-Radelet said.
MSU is ranked first in Michigan for number of Peace Corps volunteers and fourth nationally.
Two more informational meetings will take place on Nov. 11 and Dec. 1 to encourage more students to apply.
Environmental economics and policy junior Nick Putman has family and friends who have been involved in the Peace Corps. Putman said he is considering applying before he begins his career.
“I think it would help me narrow down how to actually apply skills I’ve learned here and actually help the community I live in,” Putman said.
“I’d rather be sure what I’m doing is worthwhile and meaningful.”
The Peace Corps mission is to provide countries in need with trained volunteers and promote intercultural understanding between the U.S. and those countries.
Lawson said it’s important to interact with other cultures in order to bridge the gap between cultures. Often, the only exposure other countries will have to the U.S. is through television shows such as “Baywatch,” he said.
“It puts a face to what Americans are doing and what we represent,” Lawson said. “When we go and interact with them … they’ll see that we’re not that different.”
Lawson said in the village where he worked, people struggled to make a living and eat regularly.
“I’ve been impacted (by) living with them,” Lawson said. “(I want) to help people in places like Malawi so people can be more food secure — so people don’t have to go on skipping meals.”
Hessler-Radelet said her experiences in Samoa shaped her future career.
During her time in Samoa, Hessler-Radelet’s friend became pregnant with her ninth child.
She was weeping because she could not afford to raise another child, but her husband refused to do family planning.
“I vowed after that, that I would dedicate my life to make sure women would have reproductive rights,” Hessler-Radelet said.
Hessler-Radelet has worked in public health — specifically in HIV/AIDS and maternal and child health — for about 20 years.
“Peace Corps was a life-defining experience,” said Hessler-Radelet.
“For both (my husband and I), our careers were indelibly set by what we did in Peace Corps.”