Today fifteen students at the University of Massachusetts took their first step toward making a difference in the world as they attended an informational seminar on how to join the Peace Corps.
Students with majors ranging from chemical engineering to Chinese gathered in room 1320 of the W.E.B. Dubois library at 7:00 p.m. to learn all about what the Peace Corps is, how to get in, what is has to offer, and where they should begin.
Ph.d student and Peace Corps veteran Paul Frisoli hosted the seminar. Frisoli spent two years between 2002-2004 working in Guinea where he taught math to students who did not have the materials and educated teachers availible to them.
The seminar began with him asking people for their contact information and why they would like to join the Peace Corps. Answers ranged from a desire to travel to foreign countries, the feeling that they wanted to help those less fortunate, and people who just were not exactly sure what they want to do after college, although Frisoli made it clear that the Peace Corps is more than a way to delay real life.
“I think one of the biggest misconceptions that people have about the Peace Corps is that people are somehow taking two years off.” Frisoli said. “But for me I saw it as a building block, a jumping off point for what I wanted to do with my life.”
Frisoli asked the volunteers to put together a comprehensive list of questions that they wanted to have answered by the end of the seminar. Questions such as: “What are the responsibilities that volunteers have?” “Is it safe?” “Are you locked in for two years?” “Who provides guidance? “Do we get to choose where we live?” “What about my student loans?” “What are the living conditions like?”
Some of the questions were easy to answer. The Peace Corps is a volunteer unit, so there is no penalty for leaving, though it is frowned upon. There is a stipend provided by the Corps to take care of food, travel, and other living expenses, along with a 6,000$ “readjustment” bonus upon completion. Loans could be delayed if they were federal, and one could negotiate a deferral for a private loan.
Questions about what actual life was like in the Peace Corps required more in-depth answers. He showed a 10 minute video about the histroy of the Corps and what exactly they do. It was founded in 1961 by JFK, and serves people across the world. While it is directly financed by the government, it is run by seperate autonomous group. It also explained the goals of the Corps, fulfill a need for trained people in foreign countries and promote understanding between Americans and people acorss the World.
To give a more detailed look at what life was like as a member Frisoli showed a slideshow of his experiences and travels in Guinea and talked about what life was like.
“We spent three months training for eight hours a day six days a week,” Frisoli said. ” We learned to communicate in their langueage and prepared for all kinds of situations.”
He had some extraordinary experiences there. he described how he sometimes had to wait two hours for a cab, because the car could not leave until every seat was full. He showed pictures of what his sponsor home was like and how he lived with a rural farming family and what that could be like. Frisoli even sluaghtered a goat as is tradition in Guniea
He also showed what conditions were like for students and what teaching was like
“Teaching math in french was something I had never done and was very strange, the symbols are different, and even the way you commuicate information is different in english then in France,” Frisoli said.
“A blackboard, chalk, and that’s about it,” he said talking about what the school was like.
Being in the Corps isn’t always easy, but he wanted to assure everyone it was worth it, and encouraged everyone that they should try to joinjoin.
“It wasn’t a vacation at times I loved it, at times I hated it, but it was a great Challenge,” Frisoli said.