Article By: Dorothy Glew Special to the Bethlehem Press
Though we rarely hear any mention of the Peace Corps, which was founded by President Kennedy in 1961, 7,213 Americans are currently serving in seventy countries. This year Pennsylvania ranks seventh in the nation in the number of volunteers it has produced, and Moravian College is one of the 27 colleges whose graduates have volunteered. Fifty-six Moravian alumni have served, and three graduates are currently serving. On Sept. 30, Moravian celebrated its involvement with the Peace Corps and provided an introduction to life as a volunteer with a panel of speakers, which consisted of Congressman Charlie Dent, who traveled from Washington to participate; Sheila Crowley, Acting Director of the Peace Corps; Krystal Dering, an alumna who is currently serving in The Gambia in West Africa; and Nate Ferraro, a 2013 Moravian graduate who served in Armenia.
In 2015, Moravian College strengthened its partnership with the Peace Corps by adding a formal Peace Corps Prep Program to its curriculum. This offers students a unique combination of undergraduate coursework and leadership training that are critical to the intercultural fieldwork of successful Peace Corps volunteers. Judging by student interest at the presentation, it is creating interest among the Moravian student body.
The event began with a brief introduction by the College President, Bryon Grigsby, who noted, among other things, that “the Peace Corps is a great way to gain experiential learning.” He was followed by Congressman Dent who Is a member of the Foreign Relations Committee as well as the House Appropriations Committee, which handles Peace Corps funding. Dent commented that the Peace Corps “is the softest form of diplomacy.” He praised the work of Peace Corps volunteers who “advance our country’s interests in many ways” by contributing to “greater political and social stability” in the nations where they serve. Sheila Crowley, who served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ukraine, thanked Dent, whom she called an “avid supporter of the Peace Corps.” Crowley, who had come from Mozambique the day before to attend the session, commented that the strength of the Peace Corps is “the young people who want to make a difference in the world.” She explained that Peace Corps volunteers, who typically sign up for two years, are taught the skills they will need to serve. They are then assigned to a country where they can apply those skills. She said volunteers may now select the country in which they are to serve. Most, but not all, volunteers live with a family, and, when they finish serving, their experience in the Peace Corps opens up many career opportunities.
Krystal Dering, who is extending her stay in The Gambia until 2018, participated in the meeting via Skype. She commented that there is no running water or electricity in the village where she is serving, but she has found that she can live without these things. An environmental science and sociology major, she has been able to put her education at Moravian to good use working with villagers to create change in an effective way. Nate Ferraro, who served in Armenia for fifteen months, worked at a research center teaching students research methodology and how to design and implement survey data. Commenting on his Peace Corps experience, he stated that mastering the language was “a big part of the learning curve for me’” but that “you come out the other side more open to other cultures and ways of thinking.”
The event ended with questions from the audience, chiefly from students who are mulling a stint in the Peace Corps after they graduate. In addition to the students in the audience, there was also a number of former Peace Corps volunteers in the audience. One was Rowland Bennett, who had driven up from Philadelphia for the event. Bennett spoke with great enthusiasm about his experience serving in rural Malawi, where he taught English in a boys’ secondary boarding school. The boys were conversant in English, which served them well when they were required to read a Shakespearean play, he said with a laugh.