Former Peace Corps members share experiences at panel

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Former Peace Corps members speak about their experience as volunteers at a panel on Monday evening.
Photo Credit: Juan Figueroa | Daily Texan Staff

Former Peace Corps members spoke Monday evening about experiencing different cultures and gaining new perspectives while serving abroad.

Austin’s Students for Global Peace chapter hosted the Q&A to provide prospective Peace Corps volunteers the opportunity to learn more about the Peace Corps through former volunteers talking about how their lives were shaped by the people they met and the objectives they accomplished.

Sally Waley, who volunteered with the Peace Corps in Cambodia, said the impact people have and the work they do depends on the organizational structure of the country he or she is in. Waley said a driving factor in implementing change within a host country comes from the relationships they develop with their native counterparts. 

“Everyone in my nation was always excited to work on projects, always positive and ready to make an impact,” Waley said.

Each member of the panel had a different reason they joined the Peace Corps. Waley said she had been interested in volunteering since childhood, but her father never expected her to follow through with it. 

“I told my parents I wanted to do [Peace Corps], and my dad said ‘You’re not going to do that,’ so it was partly to spite my father,” Waley said. 

Evy Anderson, who recently returned from serving in Zambia for two years, said two-thirds of her Peace Corps experience revolved around cultural exchange, where she learned about another culture while sharing her own.

“The most important part of training was learning how to talk to people, how to speak with Zambians in their dialect and how another culture thinks,” Anderson said.

Lori DeGrush, a former volunteer who served in Paraguay, said her experience with another culture gave her new insights on how other people interact around the world.

UT alumnus Christopher Shepperd, a health care community director who served in Nicaragua, said the Peace Corps offered him a flexible job description while allowing him to maintain focus in the health care community.

Shepperd said the Peace Corps gave him the ability to direct an environment and lead without necessarily being a specialist in every aspect of the health care community.

Shepperd said it is important for potential volunteers to not dwell on other volunteers’ capabilities but to pay attention to the positives and focus on their own improvements. 

”Focus on the little things,” Shepperd said. “I went to the market, bought a cup of coffee and made a lady laugh in a language I don’t speak.”