April 10, 2013
Reprinted with permission from Midwest Peace Corps Volunteers Making a Difference blog
With its Peace Corps Preparatory Program, now celebrating its fifth anniversary, Knox College offers a specialized curriculum that prepares students for Peace Corps or other international service. By offering courses in international studies, education, and foreign language study, along with a community service project and a chance to study abroad, the program also opens students' eyes to new opportunities to make a difference in Galesburg, Illinois, and around the world.
One of those students is Jeff Wozencraft, who served two years as a business development Peace Corps Volunteer in Cape Verde after completing the Prep Program and graduating from Knox in June 2010 with a degree in Spanish and economics.
"I found the Peace Corps Prep Program my junior year, before I studied abroad," he said. "Everything just came together. I was really interested in different cultures and languages, being a Spanish major. Prior to going to Knox, I had not thought about Peace Corps service."
In Cape Verde, Wozencraft, of Arlington Heights, Illinois, taught basic computer literacy skills at a youth center for the first six months of his service. Later, he shared composting techniques and managed the youth center's garden. He also became involved in marine turtle conservation and co-founded a group in a nearby village that protected nesting turtles. (Photo above: Knox College graduate Jeff Wozencraft '10 manages a garden at a youth center in his community in Cape Verde, where he served as a Peace Corps Volunteer from 2010 to 2012.)
"The great thing about the Peace Corps Prep Program was the volunteer service and international experience outside the classroom that it provided, which almost directly translated to Peace Corps service," Wozencraft, 25, said. "As a result, I felt very prepared when I arrived in Cape Verde."
Setting students up for success is exactly the goal of the program, the first of its kind at any college nationwide. Although participation doesn't require application to Peace Corps or acceptance into Peace Corps, the specialized curriculum and experience offered by the program results in skilled, well-rounded, and motivated graduates likely to be selected for international Peace Corps service or other opportunities they may pursue.
Since the program's inception, 56 Knox students have been accepted into the Prep Program, including 15 currently enrolled Knox seniors, juniors, and sophomores. Wozencraft is among nine graduates who completed the program and have served or are serving overseas as Peace Corps Volunteers. He will return to campus for a Peacebuilding Conference on Knox's campus April 12-13, 2013, that will include a keynote address from former Peace Corps Deputy Director and Acting Director Jody Olsen, who was involved in the creation of the school's Prep Program, along with a day of workshops and panel discussions with returned volunteers about how Peace Corps service made a difference in their lives.
Even before the Prep Program was introduced, Knox alumni have committed themselves to Peace Corps as a way to help communities in need and achieve their personal and professional goals. More than 185 Knox alumni have served since Peace Corps was created by President John F. Kennedy's executive order in 1961.
For Wozencraft, the experience was life-changing, and he continues to make a difference in the U.S. now that he is home. He is currently working as an administrative coordinator for the YOURS Project, which broadens horizons and develops potential for children throughout the Chicago Public Schools system through free orchestral after-school music education.
One of his favorite aspects of his Peace Corps service was the leisurely pace of life in Cape Verde, an island country off the coast of West Africa. "Not much thought went toward the future," he said, reflecting on afternoons he spent chatting with friends and co-workers. "It was all about that day." It's just one of many ways that the cultural immersion of his service continues to influence him since his return to the U.S.
"Cape Verde definitely challenged my personal perspectives," he said. "Being an outsider and looking in at a different culture ultimately aids reflection on your culture and self. It definitely left its mark on me."
About the Peace Corps: Since President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps by executive order on March 1, 1961, more than 210,000 Americans have served in 139 host countries. Today, 8,073 volunteers are working with local communities in 76 host countries in agriculture, community economic development, education, environment, health and youth in development. Peace Corps volunteers must be U.S. citizens and at least 18 years of age. Peace Corps service is a 27-month commitment and the agency's mission is to promote world peace and friendship and a better understanding between Americans and people of other countries. Visit www.peacecorps.gov for more information.