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The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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U alumni share Peace Corps experiences

By Rochelle McConkie

Next summer, only months after her graduation, Zan Larsen will be leaving to join the Peace Corps.

Although she has not yet been assigned a country, the senior political science major has completed the application process and was nominated in August to serve in Eastern Europe.

Like the 19 U alumni currently volunteering in the Peace Corps, Larsen will be immersing herself in a country, culture and language completely foreign to her, and she couldn’t be more excited.

“After completing my two internships, one in Scotland as a Hinckley Institute Fellow and one in Washington, D.C., with the International Relations Committee, it really solidified my decision (to join the Peace Corps),” Larsen said. “It’s all about becoming part of a new culture.”

On Monday, about 20 U alumni who had served in the Peace Corps met in the Union to share their experiences with students who are interested in the program.

Volunteers served in countries ranging from Chile to Kyrgyzstan to Madagascar.

Full-time Denver Peace Corps recruiter Joe Zucchini spoke at the event, introducing Jodie Olsen, who has served as the deputy director of the Peace Corps since 2002.

Olsen graduated from the U in 1965 and joined the Peace Corps in 1966, serving in Tunisia. This week, Olsen was named Alumna of the Year by the U Alumni Association.

Professor Paul Dowling, of the David Eccles School of Business, also spoke about his experiences in the Crisis Corps in the Czech Republic.

Since the Peace Corps was founded by President John F. Kennedy in 1961, 541 U alumni have served in it. During the 2005-2006 school year alone, 74 U grads applied to serve in the organization. The U has the second highest number of Peace Corps volunteers nationwide.

Among these U volunteers is Alicia Geesman, development director of the Bennion Community Service Center, who graduated from the U in 1991 and served in Poland from 1991 to 1993.

Serving in the Teaching English as a Second Language program, Geesman said she was able to teach Polish high-school students not just about the language, but about American culture, breaking down stereotypes and allowing students to learn from an individual perspective.

All Peace Corps volunteers serve for at least 27 months, spending the first three months in training and the remaining two years in service.

To join the Peace Corps, Geesman suggested starting to think about it senior year, since applications can take more than a year to process. All applicants must have a bachelor’s degree, a skill to share, tutoring experience and references.

Geesman also suggested getting out of debt before leaving, even though the Peace Corps gives all volunteers a monthly living stipend and a $6,075 readjustment allowance upon returning home.

Volunteers can work in education and youth and community development, health and HIV/AIDS programs, environmental programs, business development, agriculture and information technology.

Speaking of her service in the Peace Corps, Geesman said, “It was everything-it was scary and wonderful. It was lonely and it was joyful?It was really hard, but the best job-like they say, it’s ‘the toughest job you’ll ever love.'”

U alumna Jodie Olsen speaks about the continuing development and impact of the Peace Corps during a meeting for past Peace Corps volunteers in the Union Den on Monday night. Olsen, who joined in 1966 and served in Tunisia, was recently named Alumna of the Year by the University of Utah Alumni Association

Betty Graff, a U alumna, shares about her experience serving in Ethiopia in the 1960’s during a meeting for past Peace Corps volunteers in the Union Den on Monday night. Several volunteers attended the meeting and had served in countries such as Madagascar, Poland, and Chile.

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