June 21, 2007
For college graduates who are looking to do more than leap into the job market and want to experience more of what the world has to offer, the Peace Corps offers an alternative.
Whitney Bey '07 decided to postpone the inevitable college graduate job search and is volunteering two years of her life to the Peace Corps, agreeing to become a part of an indigenous community in Azerbaijan.
Bey developed her strong devotion to social service growing up in Minnesota. From volunteering at homeless shelters to tutoring children about animals at the local zoo, Bey says her family was always volunteering. "Doing what I can do to help people has been embedded in me since I was a kid. Volunteering for the Peace Corps has always been in the back of my mind."
While at Knox, Bey, who majored in Anthropology and Sociology, has been involved in relief trips to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, tutored children at Galesburg's Carver Center and assisted with Knox College's GED program at the Knox County jail. "Knox has been a very supportive environment of getting out there and doing something," she says.
The application process takes time, six to nine months, and the process includes several essays and medical tests. The extended process helps volunteers determine whether Peace Corps is a good match for their interests and abilities. Bey told the Peace Corps that she studied Spanish and wanted to be assigned to a country that spoke the language. The Peace Corps website says that every attempt is made to match talents to need. "I am fluent in Spanish and it was just an assumption." But when duty called, Bey discovered her assignment would be teaching English as a foreign language in Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan is a rural poor country with a lot of disparity between places. Bey says her assignment could take her to anything from a textbook description of a traditional school complete with traditional plumbing to more primitive surroundings with dirt floors, no desks and no plumbing. "They [Peace Corps] said to be ready for anything," Bey says with a chuckle. "I was told that I will probably be working alone in my village. I will have an Azerbaijani partner, but for the most part, I will be doing my own thing."
Bey will spend three months training on cultural awareness, language, and job training before she goes to Azerbaijan.
Working on a variety of assignments in areas such as agriculture, the environment, business development, education and health, Bey and other volunteers work in places such as Kenya, Guinea, Cameroon, Ukraine, Niger, and Mongolia.
Touching lives one at a time
The Peace Corps is an organization conceptualized by John F. Kennedy. How many of you, he asked, would be willing to serve their country and the cause of peace by living and working in developing nations?
Bey's cause for peace goes beyond her assignment in Azerbaijan. "I want to stay in the social service industry. Maybe the criminal justice system helping abused women. At this point I don't know where I will be, but I know that I will be in the social service world. That is what really calls to me."
Bey says she regrets leaving Knox. "I remember when I first came here, I was shy. I was the person who stood around and waited for someone to ask me to do something. But, now I am the person who takes charge?a leader. This is going to be a huge learning experience and I will be a better and stronger person. I am very excited about the next stage of my life," she says.
The Peace Corps places volunteers across the globe to do service in local communities and promote cross-cultural relationships. Since 1961, more than 200,000 volunteers have served in the Peace Corps in 139 countries, working in such diverse fields as education, health, HIV/AIDS education and prevention, information technology, business development, the environment, and agriculture. Peace Corps volunteers must be United States citizens and at least 18 years of age. Peace Corps service is a 27-month commitment.
To apply for the Peace Corps, students can visit www.peacecorps.gov.