Jan. 11, 2010
Leah Seupersad, 404-413-1354
Kristy Joseph gained real world experience in economic development thousands of miles away from her classrooms at Georgia State University. Joseph worked in San Juan Ermita, Guatemala, where she split her time between improving the town's municipal government and the overall health of the community.
She is among more than 200 GSU students and alumni who have spent years in the Peace Corps serving in a variety of assignments around the globe, including health extension in El Salvador, teaching English in South Africa, deaf education in Uganda and science in China.
"I wanted to help people in some way, although at the time, I didn't know how," said Joseph, who finished her degree in The Peace Corps Master's International Program (PCMI), a joint partnership between the Peace Corps and the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies. "I wanted to learn Spanish, and I'm a sucker for travel and experiencing new things, learning a new culture and meeting new people."
Besides making a difference in the lives of others overseas, Peace Corps volunteers also have the chance to learn a new language, live in another culture, and develop career and leadership skills. The volunteers make two-year commitments and are paid modest stipends and monthly salaries similar to the residents of their host country.
"I am deeply impressed that Georgia State is so well represented in the Peace Corps," said Kenton Ayers, Southeast regional Peace Corps manager. "The university continues a long tradition of providing us with a pool of skilled and dedicated students who are now making a difference promoting peace and friendship in developing countries. Recently, we have expanded our outreach on campus and expect a significant increase in the number of GSU alums serving overseas in 2010."
Georgia State students and alumni have served in the Peace Corps as interns, alumni volunteers and through master program partnerships, but the type of work a volunteer does is ultimately determined by the needs of a host country.
Lilliana Bakhtiari, a GSU anthropology and journalism major, studied the food crisis in Kenya during a summer study abroad trip with Peace Corps and continues to intern at the Peace Corps office in Atlanta.
"Everything is hands on learning," Bakhtiari said. "I want to start an international magazine and friend pointed out that it would be best for me to really work my way up so that I could really understand what people go through on a day to day basis and how I could go about helping them."
Anjanette Price, a student in GSU's Master's International Program in Applied Linguistics, is training English teachers in Matagalpa, Nicaragua.
"I chose to join the Peace Corps because I felt like it was important to be a part of the change I wanted to see in the world, and I think the first step in doing that is understanding people better and not just my own people," said Price, 26, who will return to the U.S. in July 2010. "As citizens of the wealthiest country in the world, we have a responsibility to listen to the people around the world whose lives are affected by every action we take."
Currently there are 14 GSU alumni serving as Peace Corps volunteers.
Maryann McGuire, who received a Master of Professional Accountancy from Georgia State in 1983, is serving in Kharkiv, Ukraine. Before retiring, McGuire was a mergers and acquisitions executive at Coca Cola. Now she teaches management and English at a large university in Ukraine and informally works to help local companies develop ways of expanding their businesses.
"Ukraine is a country on the edge of real prosperity," McGuire says. "It has a strategic location, a good transportation infrastructure and a highly skilled and educated workforce. It simply needs some international help to recover from 70 years of autocratic rule and a Soviet-style economy."
Adjusting to life in another country can be challenging for many volunteers who agree with the Peace Corps motto that it's the "toughest job you'll ever love." For 27-year old Brandon Marlow it has been adjusting to bitterly cold winters in Khujirt, Mongolia, living in a felt tent called a ger, and learning to spend a lot of time alone.
"There are hardly any fruits or vegetables to speak of, especially out here in the countryside," said Marlow, a GSU alumnus who has been in Mongolia since June 1, 2008. "The diet is mainly meat, fat and flour with the occasional potato or onion thrown in. But making life a little more difficult for a little while is why many people join up in the first place.I needed a new perspective on life, work, poverty and the world, before I could begin to order my goals in the States."
And along with all of the challenges Peace Corps volunteers endure while in developing countries comes countless successes. Joseph worked on a variety of projects, including a health center database that will help reduce the mortality rates of pregnant women and increase child vaccinations. McGuire recently helped in the creation of the Kharkiv English and Business Club that now has more than 80 members. And Marlow was instrumental in developing a new computer lab with 20 computers that about 300 students a week visit to study English. He hopes the lab will soon be funded to provide Internet service.
"The unexpected perk to understanding others better is that it makes you understand yourself better as well," Price said. "There are things that happen internally, the paradigm shifts that come along with realizing that while people are different all over the world, they have much more in common than not."