Editor’s Note: Clare MacMillen ’13 is in the Peace Corps, but was unable to be contacted for an interview because she is already abroad in Cameroon.
Before starting his first year at Macalester, in an application for Lives of Commitment, Jesse Yourish ’13 mentioned that one of his goals was to eventually join the Peace Corps.
Over four years later, his Sept. 24 departure for a 27-month stay in Mozambique will make that goal a reality. Yourish will be teaching math but won’t receive details—including official assignment, details of who he will be working with or where in the country he will be stationed— until he arrives.
“At graduation they returned our old [Lives of Commitment] applications and I said in mine that my goal was to do the Peace Corps, so I guess it’s been in my head for a long time now,” Yourish said. “I didn’t really think about it much while I was in school because I was just trying to soak everything in, but once senior year rolled around and I had to think about real life I decided it was time to seek out some discomfort … It seemed like the right balance of continuing an education but also giving something back.”
Anna French ’13, Yourish’s classmate, is also heading into the Peace Corps at the end of the month. She will be stationed in Senegal as an urban/peri-urban agriculture extension volunteer.
“[My title is] basically a super bureaucratic or jargony way of saying that I’ll be working on urban agriculture projects and developing infrastructure for growing food in urban areas,” French said. French and Yourish both found applying to the Peace Corps to be an extension of the Macalester culture they absorbed over four years.
“I knew I wanted to live and work abroad after graduating, in some education or agriculture sector. I never studied abroad at Mac, because I knew when I lived abroad I wanted to be somewhere for longer than a semester’s length,” French said. “I looked at a bunch of different jobs for teaching or working on farms abroad. After a conversation with a friend’s parents who formerly worked for Peace Corps as Country Directors, they pretty much told me to apply to Peace Corps because the program experience encompasses pretty much everything I was describing that I wanted for post-grad plans.”
“As far as the general Mac experience goes, I think that being surrounded by so many people that spend so much time volunteering and being productive in society is inspiring with regards to giving back to communities and donating time and knowledge,” Yourish said. “My adviser Bill Moseley also did the Peace Corps, and I’ve always respected the way he thought about issues and his general mindset, so I think that reinforced my thinking that doing the Peace Corps could be a valuable experience.”
Geography department chair Bill Moseley served as an agricultural Peace Corps volunteer in a village of about 200 people in Mali. He left just two weeks after graduating college and through his experience “fell in love with agriculture and analyzing how people were managing their resources.”
“I was dismayed by materialist American culture and I wanted to spend time in the global south to get a different perspective. I had this strong desire to gain a new perspective on life. Which was wonderful,” Moseley said. With Peace Corps-related topics coming up in class often, students often speak with Moseley about his experience and seek advice on whether or not they should apply.
“I feel strongly that if you are interested in development, then you should get experience on the ground and in the field, and without that experience I think you are really handicapped in many ways,” he said. Many times students come into his office to talk about the value of the work the Peace Corps does and the time commitment.
“When you study something like the humanities you can become very cynical about development, so I have a number of students that come to visit me who are concerned they will become a part of the problem,” Moseley said. “And I am sympathetic to those concerns, but I also think in a lot of instances Peace Corps volunteers are working in countries with no geopolitical significance to the U.S., so you won’t be furthering the U.S. agenda. And as far as time commitment goes, two years in the grand scheme of things isn’t really that much.”
“And it’s different than short-term study abroad because you can get a better understanding of what’s going on with the culture and with the people,” he said. The two recent Macalester graduates shared their excitement for the possibilities the next two years may hold.
“I’m really excited to get lost, presumably often. I often find the best way to get to know people and make friends is to ask for help and the best way to have fun is to go adventuring, so getting lost is a quick ticket to friends and stories,” Yourish said.
“The Senegalese are supposed to be some of the best dancers in the world so I cannot wait to boogey down with new people and learn new dances and music,” French said. “I also can’t wait to learn about the type of produce and agricultural practices that are unique to Senegal. I love food so can’t wait to try new fruits and veggies.” The application process is fairly lengthy, and Peace Corps recruiter Janice McInerney, who was on campus Sept. 16 for an application workshop, recommends that students apply nine months to a year before they would wish to depart.
“It’s a bit of a process but I think they figure people who can stick through the application process will probably be dedicated and sure this is a commitment they want to make,” French said. McInerney, St. Paul’s regional Peace Corps representative and recruiter, McInerney cited common qualities of what recruiters look for in applicants.
“We look for leadership experience, a history of volunteering, someone motivated and committed and someone who has researched Peace Corps. And we always look for flexibility. Most volunteers have a can-do attitude about what they are going to be doing, and in their general day-to-day life,” McInerney said. “I would say Macalester stands out, as it does in general, as a place that places a high interest on international issues and it seems like a natural match for many students to go into the Peace Corps.”
“I feel like every person at Mac could probably name at least five people they know who have done or are doing Peace Corps,” French said. “And I don’t think that’s the case everywhere.”