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Since 1961, 1,219 Harvard graduates have joined the Peace Corps.
A panel discussion hosted by the Institute of Politics on Tuesday featured Harvard-affiliated Peace Corps veterans who spoke about their experiences and challenges during their time spent abroad.
All of the panel members stressed the influence the Peace Corps had on their lives. “I think my Peace Corps experience has been much more important than my Harvard College education,” said Steven B. Bloomfield ’77, the executive director of the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs.
The Peace Corps now faces competition in recruiting college graduates from other public service programs, including Teach For America.
However, the Peace Corps has seen a major increase in applications on the national level since 2009, a phenomenon known as the “Obama bump” because of the current administration’s push for youth to enter public service.
Panelists highlighted the intense three month training process, the protection of the U.S. government, and structured programming as benefits of the Peace Corps experience.
Panelists also discussed the merits of entering the Peace Corps right after college.
Kristin M. Sulewski, who is currently getting a masters degree in international education policy from the Graduate School of Education, said her experience as a Peace Corps volunteer in Benin directed her graduate course of study.
During Sulewski’s service in 2009, Kate Puzey, a fellow Peace Corps member and friend also serving in Benin, was allegedly murdered by a local school teacher. The incident attracted national media attention and prompted inquiries into the Peace Corp’s safety protocols, including U.S. Congressional hearings last May about the rapes and deaths of volunteers.
Sulewski said that despite the tragedy, she and her other friends who served in Benin would recommend joining the Peace Corps.
The majority of the audience members were undergraduates, and many expressed interested in applying to the Peace Corps in the future.
“It would be a great way to travel and go to Africa at the same time,” said Ralph A. “Tre” Hunt ’15, who is planning to concentrate in African and African American Studies.
A few audience members said they were already planning to apply to the Peace Corps, but that this event reaffirmed their plans.
“It’s really great to get the perspective of those who have actually gone through the experience,” said Angela D. Primbas ’12, a government concentrator.
The Harvard Peace Corps Recruiter and other Peace Corps staff members were also present to answer questions on the recruiting and application process.
The event was part of the IOP Office of Career Service’s increased effort to put on “Career Roundtable Discussions” to help undergraduates learn about and find jobs in public service.
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