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Finding peace of mind

March 1st, 2007

While many college graduates aspire to get a job and create financial independence, a small number venture to do the opposite — give up their daily lifestyles for a humbling experience that leaves them with little more than the clothes on their back.

Peace. It’s the main objective for the United States Peace Corps and the foremost incentive for a program that declares it’s motto as, “the toughest job you’ll ever love.”

Today more than ever, young adults, primarily fresh college graduates, pass on the opportunity to start their professional career and dive into a world of volunteering with The Peace Corps. “I have developed this inexplicable passion for helping those in need from my activities here at JCU, and the only thing I can see in my future right now is continuing that after graduation,” said John Carroll University sophomore Samantha Cocco.

For others, the reason for choosing this route stems from the need to stay active. “I told myself that I’m never going to work in a cubicle,” said JCU sophomore Matt Wooters. Wooters is just one student planning to join a similar, unaffiliated government organization called the Jesuit Volunteer Corps after graduation.

Since its’ birth in 1961, The U.S. Peace Corps organization has sought to recruit people who are adamant about helping others and promoting cultural awareness in low-income countries.

Recently, the program has taken interest in focusing on the AIDS/HIV epidemic in Africa and the Caribbean as well as information technology. According to www.peacecorps.gov, with a volunteer population of almost 7,800 people, the Corps disperses those willing to help over 139 countries world-wide.

For those who believe The Corps is a potential experience to pursue, the perks can be both emotionally and financially rewarding.

The majority of the 27-month tour allows one to assist people living in impoverished areas of the world. “I would love to spend my time in The Peace Corps abroad, especially in Africa. My heart lies, for whatever reason, in Africa, and I would love nothing more than to spend a year or two there, immersed in the culture and intense poverty I expect to face,” said Cocco.

According to the Web site, depending on an individual’s educational background and area of study, The Peace Corps places people in certain positions to address issues in agriculture, business, education, the environment and health.

Furthermore, for every year spent in the corps, 15 percent of any outstanding loan payment is cancelled. The organization also assists those pursuing graduate school studies.

But just as the motto says, the Peace Corps is not for the weak of heart. As Wooters explained, volunteers are usually placed in remote villages by themselves and are given a stipend that reflects what a normal citizen of that area subsists off of. Conditions can be not only dangerous, but life–threatening as well.

Although volunteers become well aquainted with this possibility, many understand and accept the potential obstacles.

As Cocco explained,“I expect this experience to be very difficult for me but very valuable. I have thought lately about looking for a career with The Peace Corps. I cannot see myself in an ordinary profession, settling down as a lawyer or even a social worker somewhere in the US.”

The Corps also stresses the importance of staying where everyone is stationed, rather than making visits home. For those who have strong family ties, leaving the U.S. for an extended period of time may raise concerns. “I think my biggest fear is just fear of the unknown and being away from family for so long that you miss the big things,” stated Wooters.

However, there are alternatives. If a two-year stay in a foreign country alone doesn’t sound enticing, a similar organization called The Jesuit Volunteer Corps offers much of the same benefits and experiences as The Peace Corps but on a smaller scale.

Wooters, who plans to join this corps, explained that his reason for picking the organization stems from his ties to the Jesuit community and the strong emphasis that JVC places on the Ignatian tradition, faith and spirituality.

According to www.jesuitvolunteers.org, “JVC is more than just a job. Social justice, imple life-style, community and spirituality: these values provide the cornerstone for living out a commitment to faith and justice.”

As Wooters said, “I chose the Jesuit program because it has a foundation that I believe will impact me. They say that when you’re apart of the JVC, that you’re ‘ruined for life’ because once you’re a part of it, you’re going to have the mind set of wanting to help people all the time.”

The program, which started its roots in 1956, places volunteers in the U.S. as well as outside the country with other volunteers for a year of hard work and dedication. JVC recruits people over 21 years of age and offers two weeks of vacation time plus holidays for those serving.

Regardless of which program one may have interest in, both organizations offer experiences committed to helping those in need. “I think it’s amazing and everyone should do it at one point. We live in the United States where you can get anything you want. People need to have that experience,” said Wooters.

Because both organizations offer raw experiences of poverty, those pursuing a position have little to prepare themselves with. As Wooters explained, sometimes just diving in is the best way get the true experience of the program.

“My expectations are to have no expectations. Nothing can prepare someone for this. I’ve been to the Dominican Republic and Haiti to help me get an idea of what this is going to be like. But this, I think, will be so much more different. I just hope it’s life changing.”