Tuesday, May 9, 2006
Peace Corps “Legacy”
I've assumed this was true for a long time, but today made me realize that there truly are a lot of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) working in foreign affairs in the U.S. government.
I met the number two person in the State Department's Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs and had a two-hour conversation with her and four of my colleagues who are also headed out to Seoul this summer. About five minutes into this talk, she told a story about her first months in the Peace Corps (she served as a PCV in Korea in the 70s, teaching English in a middle school). I could have told the exact same story – verbatim – about my first few months as a PCV in Bulgaria, with the only changes being locations and nationalities. The resemblance was uncanny.
Later in the afternoon, I went to the State Department's headquarters building (aka Main State) to attend the "Peace Corps Legacy Event." Certain people at the State Department had invited RPCVs in all of the other foreign affairs agencies of the government to come to Main State for a celebration of Peace Corps' 45th anniversary. People were there from all over the federal government, from State and USAID to the Foreign Agricultural Service and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. The hall was completely full of people – so much so that it was difficult to walk through the crowd without jostling people. An article in this month's issue of State Magazine estimates RPCVs to make up nearly 10 percent of the State Department's workforce – apparently the transition from volunteer service in the Peace Corps to professional service as a member of the government's foreign affairs community is even more common than I thought.
Also, more interesting to me personally, after having met the number two person in my regional bureau, I also ran into the Assistant Secretary (i.e. head) of the bureau at this gathering. Yes, he too was a Peace Corps Volunteer, posted to Cameroon back in the days when Peace Corps still issued motorcycles to volunteers to get around on. He actually had a pretty amusing story about riding this motorcycle to the city one very early morning on his way to take the Foreign Service Exam. Notably, the Assistant Secretary still refers to his time as a Peace Corps Volunteer as "the best assignment of my Foreign Service career."