By Ashley Harris | September 12, 2022
Photo Credit: Peace Corps
Travel woes, lockdowns, and the lingering pandemic have not dampened the hopes of UAlbany students considering volunteering one day for the Peace Corps.
Since hosting the first Peace Corps Prep program of its kind in the SUNY system in 2019, the International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) has enrolled more than 46 students who have earned certificates.
The program saw a decline in enrollment during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, after study abroad was suspended and the Peace Corps had to bring back their volunteers. In 2020, 11 students at UAlbany received certificates compared to 22 the first year.
“What kind of hope would that have given our students of serving in the Peace Corps?” said Annette Richie, director of the Global Academic Programs, referring to the worldwide shutdowns.
But with the rollout of vaccines and boosters and the decline in cases, the Peace Corps Prep program has regained steam, enrolling students interested in one day going abroad to help communities with a wide range of grassroots development projects.
“Now we have a lot of joy and hope as there is now a return to service, and this is now when the world needs people to volunteer with the Peace Corps,” said Richie.
In 2019 the Peace Corps offered UAlbany to apply to partner with the agency because the university has “a rich history with the Peace Corps and used to supply a lot of graduates to their program,” said Richie. It is now one out of six programs in New York State.
The Peace Corps Prep program allows students at selected universities to gain experience by completing skills, languages, intercultural, and professional development to gain valuable skills that can be brought into the Peace Corps or the workforce.
It is through learning these skills that many who volunteer will be able to take on most challenges they come across in the world or at a job, showing commitment, time, and effort, according to Peace Corps Prep program materials.
Program participants receive specialized advising from sector coaches who oversee specific areas of interest. There are six sectors in total, ranging from areas of interest such as agriculture, community economic development, education, environment, health, and youth development.
Students who take the program often explore the sector of their interest, taking up to three courses and up to 50 hours of volunteer work around the Albany community.
Michael Elliott, director of ISSS, said volunteers who join the Peace Corps are exposed to those in the world who live in semi-rural conditions. “That means you have to work a lot harder, there is more physical labor involved just to keep your life running,” said Elliott, who spent time with the Peace Corps from 1989 to 1991.
But seeing how others live and helping others can be rewarding, he said.
“People's world views change when they have those kinds of experiences. You can have that in the U.S. too if you connect with the right people and get involved,” added Elliott, who oversees the agricultural and environmental sectors. “There are things you will learn through Peace Corps experiences that will change your life.”
During the pandemic, the program faced challenges and learned to adjust. Because the program relies heavily on hands-on experiences either around the community or through study abroad opportunities, volunteer opportunities declined.
“So much of the training is hands-on, but we were all virtual at the time,” said Richie. “We have all these amazing local organizations you can serve with but [we] had to make accommodations.”
Richie said there were virtual options with Engage UAlbany that allowed students to volunteer and gain experience.
Now, however, many students are back to hands-on volunteer opportunities.
“Happiness is relative to where you are in your life and what your worldview is,” said Elliott. “That is why people need to go into the Peace Corps, or they need to study abroad. They need to really see how others live.”
Those interested in hearing more about the program are welcome to contact the office at firstname.lastname@example.org