Peace Corps alumni advocate to students

Ben Deering / Sun Star Reporter
March 8, 2011

The Peace Corps Friends, an Alaska-based network of Peace Corps alumni, gathered on Tuesday, March 1 and Thursday, March 3 to inspire students on campus to consider a two-year venture with the Peace Corps. They also gathered to accept an honor bestowed upon them by Governor Sean Parnell: March is now officially Peace Corps Month in Alaska.

Many of the Peace Corp alumni who came to visit UAF served when the Peace Corps was first founded. Tony Gasbarro worked in the Dominican Republic from 1962 to 1964 and went into service again in El Salvador from 1996 to 1998. Pat Lambert worked in Nigeria from 1964 to 1966. Carolyn Gray worked in Panama from 1965 to 1967. Guy Suttley worked in South India from 1966 to 1968.

The Peace Corps first started sending people overseas in 1961, around the same time that the Vietnam War was heating up.

“People made a choice back then. You could go to grad school, or med school, or veterinary school or you could join the Peace Corps or you could join the army,” Suttley said.

The meeting included a Peace Corps recruitment film and a PowerPoint presentation. The film shared some statistics, such as average age of a Peace Corps volunteer (28), gender split (60 percent female, 40 percent male) and average marital status (93 percent single, 7 percent married).

Most of the Peace Corp alumni were very adamant in telling the two dozen people in attendance that the Peace Corps was a life-changing experience.

Gasbarro said, “We were just out of college, [and] we had never travelled to the poorer parts of the world. We spent time immersed in another culture, another language, [and] developed a compassion for the poor. I had an intellectual appreciation of the poor, but not an emotional appreciation.”

Dick Farris, who served in Venezuela from 1966 to 1967 before being discharged due to medical issues, said, “I think the Peace Corps experience is the greatest experience for learning. When you immerse yourself in another culture, only then can you understand your own culture. I didn’t experience culture shock when I went to Venezuela; I suffered culture shock when I got back.”

 

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