Last Tuesday, a week to the day after the Peace Corps marked its 50th anniversary, Steve Hunsicker came to UM’s McLamore Executive Education Center to share with an audience of some 40 prospective applicants what being a Peace Corps volunteer is all about.
But first the South Florida regional recruiter pointed to a photo of himself and announced, “That is me you’re looking at in a skirt. I did wear a skirt for two years.”
At age 47 Hunsicker applied to the Peace Corps, serving from 2007 to 2009 on the South Pacific Ocean archipelago of Tonga, where he helped residents start and improve small business ventures. The skirt, he explained, “is the typical business attire in Tonga.”
In addition to offering anecdotes from his own experience, Hunsicker provided application and benefits information as well as some Peace Corps demographics.
Hunsicker said the 8,655 active Peace Corps volunteers and trainees serving around the globe now represent a 40-year high for Peace Corps placement. Of those currently in the field, he added, 33 are UM alumni.
The goal of the Peace Corps, a U.S. government agency founded in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy, is to immerse volunteers in new cultures and bring that learning back to the United States to share with the rest of the nation. It requires two years in-country service plus three months in-country training in one of six primary service areas: education, youth and community development, health and HIV/AIDS, small business development, agriculture, and environment. Volunteers are also encouraged to do secondary projects that assist the host country with other areas of need.
“We try to meet the needs for whatever the countries are requesting,” he explained.
The largest volunteer country currently is the Ukraine, with 400 volunteers. The newest and smallest contingent is in Colombia, where the Peace Corps returned last year and now has nine volunteers. Although 28 is the average age of a Peace Corps volunteer, the oldest Peace Corps volunteer currently serving is an 86-year-old nurse based in Morocco, Hunsicker said.
In addition to getting help with student loans, volunteers get medical and dental insurance; 48 days of vacation; language, cross cultural, and technical training; a stipend; and a taxable readjustment allowance of $7,000 after their service. Another advantage, Hunsicker pointed out: Institutions, such as the Smithsonian and EPA, and multinationals alike often contact the Peace Corps, looking to interview returned volunteers for job openings. The Peace Corps also partners with colleges and universities, including UM, to offer scholarships, assistantships, academic credit, and additional stipends.
The Peace Corps has a strong tradition at UM—and an ardent fan in President Donna E. Shalala, who served in Iran from 1962 to 1964. More than 350 UM alumni are returned Peace Corps volunteers and for the past two years the University has been in the Top 25 of the organization’s annual list of “Top Peace Corps Volunteer Producing Colleges and Universities.”
As for how the event turned out, Hunsicker said, “I was there quite late answering questions,” and he was “thrilled” with the quality of potential candidates. “UM is a great school.”