By Charlotte G. ’19, Sydney ’18, and Lauren ’19
After graduating from college, many young adults choose to enter the workforce and pursue a traditional job. However, organizations like the Peace Corps and Teach for America offer an alternative route for college graduates to step outside of their comfort zones and confront challenging life experiences. Both organizations have unique goals for their participants, but with both organization the volunteers have an impact on the communities where they serve.
The Peace Corps
The Peace Corps is an independent government organization that has trained over 225,000 volunteers since 1961 provides educational and technical aid to foreign host countries.
Founded in 1960 under President John F. Kennedy, the Peace Corps aims to promote world peace and fri
endship by sending volunteers to 141 countries to work with local inhabitants and develop lasting solutions in agriculture, environment, education and healthcare. In the Education program, the largest of the available programs, volunteers work with students, parents and the community to teach academic subjects at all levels in local schools. Healthcare volunteers unite with local communities and hospitals to promote nutrition, basic hygiene, water sanitation, maternal care and child health.
The Peace Corps also works to improve understanding of environmental issues in the United States. Creating more sustainable energy and reducing waste, volunteers partner with local organizations to utilize more environmentally friendly techniques to prevent soil erosion and reduce the use of pesticides. In Peru, for instance, Peace Corp Volunteers helped locals build a wind turbine that generated 500 watts of clean energy.
In order to provide AIDS relief, Peace Corps has trained volunteers with the help of the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). These volunteers educate the community about AIDS, provide medical care and create a financial support net for families afflicted with AIDS as well as support children orphaned by the disease.
Teach for America
Teach for America, or TFA, is a non-profit organization that strives to create educational equity in the United States. TFA recruits recent college graduates, graduate students and professionals who teach at public schools in low – income communities for two years. The recruits undergo five to seven weeks of training before teaching in their chosen field of study. TFA operates in 36 states in both inner cities and rural areas where school districts face shortages in teachers and facilities.
TFA was developed from Founder Wendy Kopp’s senior thesis at Princeton University, in which she addressed inadequate education resulting from poverty, racism and other social injustices. Kopp began recruiting future leaders in December 1989 to teach in classrooms and invest in education reform. Now in its 26th year, 46,000 TFA recruits have taught 10 million students. Graduating seniors from 740 different colleges comprise 62 percent of TFA’s 2016 incoming corps of teachers; graduate students and professionals make up the remaining 38 percent.
Although TFA teachers do not typically have degrees in education, a 2015 study by Mathematica Policy Research shows that TFA members with as little as 1.3 years of experience teaching English and Mathematics in elementary school perform just as well on standardized tests as professional teachers with 13.6 years of experience.
How to get involved
Organizations like the Peace Corps and Teach for America offer volunteers the opportunity make a difference in others’ lives and experience new places. Because of the intensity that comes with living in an unfamiliar culture, recruiters from both organizations admit that the experience of service is not for everyone.
Associate Director of Alumnae Relations Julianna Arnold ’87 served with the Peace Corps after graduating college. Arnold said she had expected to be posted to a developing French-speaking country in Africa because she studied French at university but was surprised to discover she was instead being sent to Estonia in eastern Europe.
“I wasn’t living in a developing country—there were paved roads, modern housing, and most of the people looked exactly like me. However, there were cultural differences that are not always as obvious at first glance. That is what made my posting a little more challenging,” Arnold said.
Because of experiences like Arnold’s, the Peace Corps looks for flexible, resilient volunteers. Los Angeles Peace Corps recruiter Tiffany Tai discussed the initiative and motivation necessary for volunteers to be successful. Tai also mentioned that volunteers must be willing to adjust to a variety of circumstances during the 27 month long period that they serve in the Peace Corps.
“I think one of the most challenging aspects of volunteering with the Peace Corps is for Volunteers to ‘just be present’ and not have expectations. Oftentimes, things are flexible on the ground. You’re also in a different country where the culture and customs can be quite different from your own,” Tai said.
Tai originally began her relationship with the organization while volunteering in Uganda. While there, Tai worked with an organization that supports orphans and children with disabilities, helps communities access clean water and assists HIV positive women.
“I could never have imagined the impact I could have made on my community–I had hoped to just help at least one other person,” Tai said.
Like the Peace Corps, Teach for America values leadership ability and commitment because of the intensity of their two-year program. In an interview with Cosmopolitan Magazine, Elissa Kim, an Executive Vice President for recruitment at Teach for America, said that the organization emphasizes diversity and an interest in educational equity.
“People come from all different walks of life. It’s diverse racially, socio-economically, and we recruit people with vastly different life experiences. But we do consistently see that our people have passion,” Kim said.
Kim added that Teach for America positions ultimately lead to growth for the volunteers and the ability to create change, but often are challenging.
“You need to know that it is really hard work. This job is for people wanting to have a tremendous impact and willing to work hard to create that,” Kim said.
Despite the struggles of adapting and working with a service organization. A Peace Corps study showed that around 90 percent of volunteers would recommend the Peace Corps experience.
“Peace Corps is not always fun nor is it always easy. We actually say it’s one of the toughest jobs you’ll ever love,” Tai said.
Programs like The Peace Corps and Teach for America have appealed to many Marlborough alumnae as a way to give back after college graduation. Claire Borthwick ’03 found out about Teach for America the summer before her senior year of college and decided to apply. An American Studies major, Borthwick both volunteered at a charter school and tutored in reading and writing all throughout college. With prior experience and interest in teaching elementary and middle school students, Borthwick sought a similar but new challenge. In the fall after college graduation, she completed a teacher training program and attended a job fair, where she was selected to teach at John Liechty Middle School in East LA. She found herself teaching a seventh grade class, several of whom spoke English as a second language and read only at a second grade level. Many needed to repeat sixth grade in order to pass.
“Where I was doing Teach for America, there were schools that I am pretty confident no other teacher would have wanted to teach, because I was given the lowest performing students, who had a lot of behavioral, emotional and educational difficulties; not all their faults, but partially from being let down by the educational system.” Borthwick said.
Borthwick was a member of the founding group of teachers at John Liechty Middle School. Borthwick explained that the school had an exceptional team of teachers and principals, who used contemporary education data about to design a more effective curriculum.
“The most exciting thing was that by the end of the year, we had worked together, and I reimagined how to teach my students the same vocabulary and skills so that they could pass these tests. By the end of the year they all passed the test that placed them out of the English as a second language course so that they could join the normal English classes for their eighth grade year,” Borthwick said.
Despite the challenges she faced while working in a new environment, Borthwick said that Teach for America was an invaluable experience and would recommend a similar program.
“I would recommend Teach for America, but I think it has changed a lot and, without getting too political about it, I think they’re looking for people who want to stay in education longer and are from those local communities. So I’m not sure how Marlborough students would fit the bill,” Borthwick said.
Marlborough alumnae have also had formative experiences serving with the Peace Corps. Associate Director of Alumnae Relations Julianna Arnold ’87 majored in Political Science and International Relations in college and wanted to do work overseas after studying abroad in Paris for a year. Inspired by a friend who was volunteering with Peace Corps in Costa Rica, Arnold applied.
“I knew I wanted to live abroad; and I was civic minded and involved in many socially oriented causes in college. Peace Corps seemed to be the perfect mix of the two. I wanted to help people, learn about the world, get hands on experiences in new and diverse cultures. I also loved learning languages and exploring new cultures,” Arnold said.
Arnold found herself placed in the Estonia with no knowledge of Estonian language or culture, but she left much more confident in her adaptability.
“[The Peace Corps] led me to pursue a career in international development, working in [Estonia] on gender and development issues, specifically women’s economic empowerment,” Arnold said.
Arnold offered advice to volunteers to make the most out of their service experience.
“Don’t go in with pre-conceived expectations. Keep an open mind and try to maintain that. Watch out for yourself, be responsible but try to say ‘yes’ to new opportunities and people…you never know what you can learn and where it will take you,” Arnold said.
Borthwick agreed that any community outreach can serve as a critical experience to have while approaching adulthood.
“You can go out into the world after as an educated, informed person, who knows more than the narrow bubble that you live in at Marlborough… It really makes you a complete human being.” Borthwick said.