Program shows grads the world
The Peace Corps helps volunteers of all ages find themselves abroad with a free plane ticket to build wells in villages, connect impoverished communities to the Internet, teach English to high school students or get involved in numerous other service opportunities. The Peace Corps also paves a path to academic and professional success at home with post-service benefits including non-competitive eligibility for federal jobs.
UH alumnus Eduardo Garcia teaches English to high school students in Ukraine. After graduating with a psychology degree and entering the workforce at home, Garcia felt unfulfilled and stagnant.
"Then I remembered that I always wanted to join the Peace Corps," Garcia said. "I figured let’s do it, better late than never."
Peace Corps promotes international peace and cultural awareness by giving U.S. volunteers three months of cultural and technical training, then two years to implement service projects in Central America, the Caribbean, South America, the Middle East, Africa, the Pacific Islands, Eastern Europe and Asia.
The Peace Corps covers travel expenses, medical care and training in languages and technical skills. Volunteers also receive 48 days of paid vacation and home leave for family emergencies.
Peace Corps projects appeal to a variety of interests and skills. Thirty-six percent of volunteers teach science, math, English and other subjects in public schools. Other popular programs include HIV and AIDS seminars, health care, youth counseling and even sign language courses offered to parents of deaf Kenyan children.
Garcia enjoys teaching English to high school students in Khmelnytskyi. When word spread of the American English teacher, older Ukrainians sought out Garcia to practice English, and Garcia formed an after-school English club. The club meets once a week to practice English while discussing an established topic and watching American movies on Garcia’s laptop.
"They’re curious about Americans," Garcia said.
In a country where many people base their impressions of American life on imported movies and television shows such as The Simpsons and Heroes, Garcia corrects false rumors for his students.
"What they see on TV isn’t necessarily the truth," he said.
During summer vacation Garcia teaches baseball camps, cultural awareness seminars and HIV and AIDS seminars. Garcia once taught a cultural awareness seminar to 12-year-old students in a small Ukrainian village.
"I said, ‘Why did we do this lesson on multicultural awareness?’ and one student said ‘To widen our outlook, Mr. Garcia.’ I was blown away, to get an answer like that in a village of three or 4,000 people."
After completing service, the Peace Corps provides former volunteers with an 18-month health insurance plan and a $6,000 allowance for re-adapting to life in the United States.
"Federal jobs are easier to get in the sense that we have non-competitive status for a year," said Garcia. "It definitely fine-tunes your career aspirations."
After joining Peace Corps, Garcia decided to use his experience writing grants and implementing projects such as the HIV and AIDS seminars to improve American social welfare programs.
"If you want to challenge yourself, if you want to learn about a different culture, if you want to have an adventure and at the same time learn about other people and help other people, this is definitely the place to do it," Garcia said. "I don’t regret it one bit. I’m helping people and at the same time, I’m learning something about myself."