Saturday, June 15, 2024

MSU's Peace Corps team talk volunteering, exploring culture

June 7, 2024
<p>MSU alumnus Alex Morley works with a group in his Peace Corps program. Photo courtesy of Morley.</p>

MSU alumnus Alex Morley works with a group in his Peace Corps program. Photo courtesy of Morley.

A recently graduated Michigan State University student in Peru is about to finish his training. He arrives by bus in a city in the region of Pasco. This will be his volunteer site and home for the next two years.

MSU alumnus Alexander Morley, who graduated with a degree in environmental engineering, is currently serving as a volunteer for the Peace Corps in Peru.

He is far from the first, however.

Since the founding of the Peace Corps, over 2,000 MSU alumni have served for the organization, placing it sixth among large volunteer-producing institutions. 

Recently, MSU was recognized as one of the top ten large colleges and universities that produce the most Peace Corps volunteers.

Joy Campbell, program coordinator for MSU’s Peace Corp Prep Program, founded after the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021, helps to produce these volunteers.

“I call it the TSA PreCheck for Peace Corps,” Campbell said. “They know that the applicants have been vetted here on campus and feel confident in their application as a potential volunteer.” 

The program helps applicants fulfill four competencies required for the Peace Corps, Campbell said. These include sector-specific skills which relate to the sector they have chosen to apply for, foreign language proficiency, intercultural competence and professional development and leadership. 

“Those things combined give the person a foundation when creating their application,” Campbell said. 

Cindy Fiser, a recruiter for the Peace Corps and a current PhD student dual majoring in entomology and the ecology, evolution and behavior program at MSU, also helps those looking to volunteer.

Fiser, who works alongside Campbell, assists with the long application process, she said.

“We help with resumes, mock interviews, motivation statements,” Fiser said. “Anything we can help with, we try to.” 

Volunteering for the Peace Corps is a 27-month commitment once accepted, with three months of dedicated training and two years of service on site.

“Coming out of college there’s a lot of opportunities open and people are unsure sometimes about what route they should take, or how this might benefit their future,” Fiser said. “That’s what we’re here for.”

Fiser herself was one of these students.

After graduating she took a year off, working jobs that would help gain experience for the Peace Corps. She eventually served from 2018 through 2020 in Malawi, which is located in Southeast Africa. 

The Peace Corps has several sectors that volunteers can serve under including education, environment, agriculture, health and others. Fiser worked as a natural resource management volunteer, she said. 

“For me, it was a really useful time between college and going into graduate school,” Fiser said. “It helped me narrow down what I wanted to do and how I wanted to have that impact in the world.” 

Fiser said she worked with a lot of farmers in Malawi, which helped guide her towards what she chose to study in graduate school. 

An important aspect of this service involves a community assessment. For Fiser, she would meet with community leaders like regional and local chiefs, farmers and teachers to see how herself and her group could help within her sector.

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“A lot of people said they wanted trees planted, so we held quite a few tree nurseries,” Fiser said.

Overall, Fiser and several youth groups she worked with planted over 5,000 trees during her service, she said. 

Fiser said she also held education groups for environmental education and conservation with primary and secondary schools.

In these education groups Fiser would teach kids skills like how to make ecobricks. Ecobricks are plastic bottles densely packed with used plastic that once combined with mud or some kind of cement, can be used to create structures like walls or garden beds, among other things, Fiser said.

Since the community Fiser was serving in did not have electricity, she also taught a group of older kids how to make a solar oven with the inside of a potato chip bag. She used the reflective surface to boil water and cook eggs, she said. 

Adjusting to life as a volunteer can also be difficult. The training period and other resources provided helps make it easier, Fiser said.

“I didn’t have running water and electricity,” Fiser said. “So how do you manage your life and hygiene? How do you cook and get water?” 

Usually volunteers are living with a local family to help teach and assist them through the adjustment process. 

Currently, there are 17 Peace Corps volunteers from MSU in 13 countries.

Morley, who is getting ready to graduate from the training program, is one of those volunteers.

He is currently on his volunteer site, exploring the environment and getting adjusted, before traveling back to finish his training in Lima.

“The first month was a very hard adjustment period, you really don’t get into a routine in training,” Morley said. “There’s always something new happening and you’re not always going to be prepared for it.”

Morley said he joined the Peace Corps because he wanted to do something less conventional after graduating.

“Primarily, I was looking for something new,” Morley said. “Usually the path someone with an engineering degree would take is just getting straight into working. I wanted to explore a little.”

Morley is training to become a water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) volunteer. 

morley-2

WASH volunteers focus on water infrastructure care, water management and sanitary and environmental education, according to the Peace Corps website project description. 

Training for Morley involved cultural classes as well as learning Peruvian Spanish. 

“I’m more of an intermediate beginner in my Spanish but it's giving me that encouragement and confidence to speak with people,” Morley said.

In his free time, Morley has been exploring Peru and its culture, he said, either taking walks and meeting new people, playing volleyball, spending time with the family he lives with or enjoying the food Peru has to offer.

morley-3

“I love every minute of eating the cuisine here,” Morley said. “Just being out in this city, it's very cool to see how the community members embrace another person when you can speak their language and communicate even on a basic level. They're so welcoming to me and answer all kinds of silly questions I might have; just to learn more about their culture.”

Morley looks ahead to how he can grow in the next two years serving as a volunteer.

“How can I build myself in this community, integrate myself and along the way find opportunities to use for growth?” he said. 

Additionally, Morley found that serving as a volunteer has made him more comfortable with speaking in front of a crowd of people and becoming more extroverted. 

Even though his future isn’t certain after those two years, Morley said he has grown to be more present.

“There are moments where I kind of panic and ask, 'what am I going to do after two years?'” Morley said. “What kind of things will I be missing out on? In the end, I just  gather myself into this moment, going with the flow of what this experience has to offer.”

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