Stephen Handelman of John Jay College on The Benefits of Joining The Peace Corps

Stephen Handelman

Having once served in the Peace Corps in Guatemala, Stephen Handelman is a strong proponent of serving in the organization. Today, Stephen Handelman will discuss some of the great advantages that come with joining the Peace Corps.

For those unfamiliar with the Peace Corps, it is a United States government agency that sends Americans abroad to volunteer in countries in need. During service in the Peace Corps, volunteers will typically work with local leaders to develop and implement solutions to the different problems currently facing their community. While Stephen Handelman served in Guatemala, there is no telling where in the world a volunteer may end up as the organization has established relationships across the globe.

The Peace Corps got its start under John. F. Kennedy’s administration back in 1961. The same three goals that were put in place in 1961 remain the focus today. Those goals are:

  • Help the people of interested countries develop skills and address challenges of development.
  • Help establish a better understanding of American citizens across the globe.
  • Help Americans understand the needs of other people from across the globe.

More than 60 countries currently host Peace Corps volunteers. Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Central America, Mexico, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, South America, and North Africa all have a Peace Corps presence. During the pandemic, many Peace Corps programs had to temporarily close, and volunteers were sent home, but in most countries they have since resumed. Stephen Handelman, formerly of John Jay College, credits his time in the Peace Corps, where he worked with indigenous communities in the northern Guatemalan province of Huehuetenango to build schools and water projects, for broadening his horizons, and for helping him gain an understanding of the need for disadvantaged communities to empower themselves. Communications and the media are one important channel for communities to express their needs and Stephen helped develop a regional newspaper as one of his projects, an experience he was able to draw on for his subsequent work in training journalists from around the world, and more particularly for community and local media in the U.S. as director of the John Jay College Center on Media, Crime and Justice.

Working as a Peace Corps volunteer begins with an application. Volunteers of all ages can match their skills and their interests to the needs required by countries they hope to work in. For example, someone interested in a career in environmental conservation can join the Peace Corps for hands on experience with local farmers increasing food security by updating farms to adapt to the latest technologies that are looking to assist with climate change. Today’s volunteers work in a widening range of fields, including education, agriculture, health, economic development, environmental conservation and youth development. Often a volunteer’s service provides a jumpstart to her career. For example, education is the most popular sector in the Peace Corps. and teachers are always in high demand. Showing the ability to manage a classroom overseas is a fantastic way to show a school district that someone has what it takes to join their team.

Those committed to helping others and over the age of 18 are eligible to sign up for the Peace Corps. Much like Stephen Handelman, the organization claims that nearly 90 percent of those who participate in the Peace Corps go on to recommend joining to others. People spread the word on the benefits of learning different cultural perspectives, representing their country proudly in a foreign land, and learning skills that can go on to make a huge difference in a competitive global market. Skills like picking up a second language or learning how to lead a team can all be accumulated during service.

Those who volunteer for the Peace Corps do receive several benefits during their time, which includes medical and dental care, a living wage, all transportation expenses paid, technical training, language and cultural education, and skill instruction based on their assigned role. Those who serve for two full years are provided with $10,000 (before tax) in order to help smooth the transition back home. People who join later in life are often assigned specific roles based off of their current career path. The Peace Corps finds the best role for everyone based on their unique set of talents.

Finally, Stephen Handelman would most strongly suggest joining the Peace Corps as it teaches people that there is much more that makes us similar than makes us different. It’s the perfect way to get a better understanding of the world around us.

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