Sixteen individuals were recognized for their commitment to service at the 2016 Ohio State Peace Corps banquet last Wednesday evening. The event, which serves to honor students from OSU and surrounding colleges and universities who have recently been accepted into the Peace Corps, took place in the auditorium of the Agricultural Administration Building. Of the 16 honorees, 12 individuals were either current students or OSU alumni.
Gail Messick, Peace Corps coordinator and recruiter for OSU, began the evening by addressing the new volunteers and spoke briefly of the new world of adventure they should expect in the near future.
The Peace Corps is a U.S. government-volunteer program that connects Americans with work sites and projects in foreign countries. Since the program’s inception in 1961, more than 220,000 current and returned volunteers have travelled to over 140 countries, according to the Peace Corps website.
Messick welcomed Jamie Rhein, president of Columbus Return Volunteer Association, to the stage to further elaborate on the experience of returning from service. She encouraged the new volunteers to join returned peace corps organizations. Rhein herself was a Peace Corps volunteer in Gambia, Africa, and served from 1982 to 1984.
“It doesn’t matter whether you were in the Peace Corps 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 30 years ago, last week. When you get back, the stories are very similar, so you feel connected to other people,” Rhein said.
Volunteers typically serve for periods of 27 months, three months of which are spent toward training for their particular program. Program participants are not required to pay a fee for their involvement and are also given a monthly living and housing allowance in addition to full dental and health coverage, according to the Peace Corps website.
While in recent years the application process for the program has become increasingly competitive, the overall timeframe for the application process has been shortened to a nine-month period. Messick said the program receives about 22,000 applications for only 3,500 available positions.
“To receive that invitation, means not only that you have skills that the Peace Corps wants, but you’ve also passed through all the hurdles of your background check, your medical check, competing against all of the other applicants who also have similar skills or better, and you’ve made it through that entire process,” Messick said. “(The Peace Corps) does their best to find the best and the brightest.”
Brittany Baker, a 2014 graduate and the founder of the Peace Corps Club at OSU, spoke firsthand about the application process and her commitment to the program. Baker is set to leave for Cambodia in July.
“When I was a student at Ohio State I started the Peace Corps Club, and I helped organize this event over the past few years, so it feels very interesting to be on the other side of things,” Baker said.
Danny Livengood, a regional recruiter for Peace Corps and a former Peace Corps volunteer, was also invited to the stage to share his own personal experience with the Peace Corps and to speak briefly to the honorees about what types of experiences they may encounter while abroad.
“You won’t just be learning about new cultures and new languages when you go overseas, you’ll be gaining a new perspective, a new set of eyes to not just see this new culture, but to look back at our own culture and see features you’ve never noticed before,” Livengood said.
Also in attendance was Jack Campbell, former Peace Corps recruiter for OSU who retired last year after six years of service. Campbell was honored at last year’s banquet as the recipient of the 2015 Lillian Carter Award, which is given to exceptional Peace Corp volunteers over the age of 50.
“Tonight is a celebration for the applicants who have been approved and have assignments to go into Peace Corps, and this is kind of coming out party for them,” Campbell said. “For a young person now to go into Peace Corps right after a degree, they may or may not have any practical experience, Peace Corps will give them that.”