Peace Corps Prep Provides Rewarding Experience for Peace Corps Hopefuls
- Mar 2, 2022
- Alex Briseño
Darby Duncan, an international relations and global studies (IRG) senior, fell in love with community service and the Peace Corps long before she arrived at The University of Texas at Austin in 2018. That’s why, as she works toward graduating in May, it’s no surprise that she is simultaneously completing Texas Global’s Peace Corps Prep, a certificate program that equips students with tools for international work as potential Peace Corps Volunteers.
Peace Corps Prep, which partnered with UT Austin in 2019, lays out a structured blueprint for students with aspirations of becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer.
The program focuses on four core competencies deemed critical to the fieldwork volunteers conduct through Peace Corps: intercultural coursework, 50 hours of extracurricular service, leadership development and a language requirement. Mastering this combination of service and cultural skills can allow students to prepare for Peace Corps and stand out in the competitive application process.
“Peace Corps Prep has been a great opportunity for students at UT who are still in the midst of pursuing their degrees to work toward gaining the skills and experiences that make up a competitive Peace Corps applicant,” said Peace Corps Campus Recruiter Maritza De La Peña. “The program’s mission is to develop competencies that align with the type of work the Peace Corps Volunteers do out in the field.”
UT Austin’s partnership with Peace Corps, De La Peña said, helps students prepare for a future with Peace Corps in addition to enriching their overall college and professional experience.
For Duncan, it was UT Austin’s IRG program that initially appealed to her passion for global events and cultures. Luckily for her, the Peace Corps Prep partnership coalesced shortly after she arrived on campus.
“I've been interested in the Peace Corps itself from a very young age,” said Duncan. “When I learned that UT was going to offer a program that would help you develop the skills needed to be a competitive applicant, I was really drawn to that.”
Since the Peace Corps’ 1961 inception, 1,913 UT alumni have served abroad as volunteers.
While the pandemic forced volunteers to evacuate from countries around the world in 2020, De La Peña says, current applicants have been sent invitations and are set to depart to their intended destinations at some point this year.
Loving the Process
Shortly after beginning the Peace Corps Prep program, and addressing the comprehensive checklist it requires, Duncan discovered a pleasant surprise.
“I had several different requirements that I needed to fulfill, but my major is actually quite in line with the various courses that I needed to take for the Peace Corps Prep program,” said Duncan. “It provided the outline for what I wanted to do in college, and everything else I've done has fit nicely within the program.”
Duncan added, “When I came in, I thought, ‘Oh, I need to do all these things so that I can get into the Peace Corps,’ but then I fell in love with this program and found more opportunities in the process.”
Duncan, who is now trilingual, completed two foreign languages: Urdu for her major and Spanish for the Peace Corps Prep program.
With her intercultural competence and diversity and inclusion courses completed, along with most of her service hours, Duncan is currently focusing on professional development and interview skills, with hopes of completing the program in March.
Duncan took on two major service opportunities throughout her time at UT Austin to complete the required 50 hours of service.
She is currently the engagement director of Students Expanding Austin Literacy (SEAL), a service group on campus that promotes literacy by creating reading groups in underserved schools across Austin.
From building a community with the kids to sharing a love for reading, Duncan says, the experience has been rewarding for everybody involved.
“We play games and get to meet all the students. You have your one buddy, but you really get a sense of everyone who's there—and it feels like a little family, it really does,” said Duncan. “We’re making rewarding friendships and, because you deepen your relationship with these children, they are more excited to read because it's something that you're getting to do together.”
She added, “Seeing kids who didn't want to read coming into the program just blossom and find a love for reading has been really rewarding.”
Duncan also completed internships at Alhambra-U.S. Chamber, Refugee Services of Texas and the UT Human Rights Law Clinic.
In addition to realizing that the requirements for the Peace Corps Prep program overlapped with the required coursework for her major, she also experienced firsthand how one opportunity led to another as she continued building her résumé.
“As I interned for the Refugee Service of Texas, I also had a faculty mentor through another program offer me an internship at the UT Clark Center,” said Duncan. “Now I have the opportunity to examine human rights issues in Australia, which has opened so many doors to me and helped me think about my future career.”
In the process of completing these internships, Duncan added, she has not only found other opportunities but also expanded her network as a result.
Duncan says she does not have a preference on where she will be potentially stationed and just hopes to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer wherever she can make an impact. She also plans on pursuing a master's in international policy, with aspirations of promoting peace and diplomacy as a foreign service officer. Another option, Duncan said, is working with refugees and human rights issues through nonprofits and philanthropic groups.
As Duncan nears the end of her time at UT Austin, she finds herself loving the career options that have arisen from her accomplishments. As she reflects on her time with Peace Corps Prep, she wanted to share one of the biggest lessons she learned during the program: It’s not just for future Peace Corps Volunteers.
“You don't necessarily have to think you want to go to the Peace Corps afterward to do this program. It's also a really good framework to take important classes on intercultural competency, learn about different cultures and do community service,” said Duncan. “It can guide your college years. It’s a great program that can really benefit anyone who wants to be a part of it.”
To celebrate this year’s Peace Corps Week by amplifying the voices of Peace Corps Volunteers, Texas Global is hosting a Story Slam at Cactus Café at 7:30 p.m., Thursday, March 3.