Last Wednesday, former Peace Corps volunteer Erin Erickson spoke to a classroom full of students about the volunteer opportunities available to MSU students after graduation.
“I wrote my bucket list and thought, ‘what do I want to do with my life? I’m still young; I love the world; I would like to make a difference, but what do I really want to do?’ I wrote a list of the things I wanted. One of them was to live in a third world country and hopefully make a difference, and I wanted to get a master’s degree. I found out I could do both with the Peace Corps,” Erickson said.
Lauren Burton, a junior business major, said, “I’ve always loved to help people. Even though I’m a business major, I wanted to find a way to make a difference overseas. This is a great opportunity because I can use my business degree but I can also reach out in an under developed area.”
Speaking about how the meeting helped ease some of her doubts, Burton said, “I thought I had to choose between business and working with kids, but [Erickson] did exactly what I want to do when I’m overseas, so now I know it’s possible to do both.”
Erickson’s own experience in Moldova allowed her not only to learn Russian, but to work with local nonprofit organizations and local school children. She said, “I worked with two different nonprofit organizations. Half my job was advising them on capacity building techniques like business skills, marketing, strategic planning . . . and half my job was implementing youth development activities. We did debate clubs, sports clubs, summer camps, and we also did work in the local orphanage.”
Peace Corps volunteers have the opportunity to reach any goal during their service because they’re living in the community with the people they’re directly servicing. Erickson said, “In my free time I helped implement an entire after school program for local children. And that was just with extra time.”
“Education is our biggest program,” Erickson said, “Health is the second.” But when one student raised a question about volunteering in agriculture with the Peace Corps, Erickson laughed, obviously excited, and said, “We are always in need of agriculture volunteers. If you have agriculture skills, environmental skills, apply. It’s one of our smaller programs but rarely do we get people to apply who have those skills.” According to Erickson, in the developing world — where the Peace Corps is largely present — agricultural practices are necessary and the corps is extremely short in qualified volunteers.
On the subject of the third world and the volunteers’ living conditions, Erickson said, “We’re in the developing world. It’s not like living in the first world United States. If you’re in a capital city, you might have a lot of amenities. If you’re in a rural village in Zambia, Africa, you’ll have to take a bucket of water from the well to shower.” However, she encouraged the experience and the knowledge that comes with living in developing countries and promised volunteers would always be healthy. “If you want to do Peace Corps, be willing to go without amenities, knowing you will have water to drink. We make sure you’re healthy,” she said.
Peace Corps, with a standard service mission lasting 27 months, is a long commitment for students. MSU student Deanna Rothwell said, “I’m going to study abroad; after that, I’m going to see how I feel [about the Peace Corps]. I love traveling, but 27 months is a long time; I’ve never been away from my family that long.”
Erickson, who didn’t join the Corps until she was 30, stressed the fact that Peace Corps is a service you can commit to at any point in your life. She said, “This isn’t something you have to rush; there’s no pressure to join right when you graduate, but it’s an option.”
Erickson will return to MSU to discuss Peace Corps opportunities during the Fall Career Fair, Thursday, Oct. 15. More information and applications are available at peacecorp.gov.