Peace Corps Draws Many Alumni

By Sean Smith
Staff Writer

Only weeks after hearing John Hume proclaim the importance of diversity at Boston College's 1995 Commencement Exercises, Sarah Galligan was off with her newly-earned bachelor's degree in English to lead a very different life.

For the next two years, she lived and worked as a Peace Corps volunteer English teacher in a rural town in the West African nation of Guinea-Bissau, where water was hauled from wells and electricity was available only four hours per day.

"This was just something I had to do," said Galligan, who extended her Peace Corps service an additional year, which she spent in a larger city before returning to the United States last June. "I had done some service work while at BC and I truly wanted to do whatever I could that would help to build a more compassionate society. I found it so rewarding to be part of a whole other community."

Asst. Prof. Pegaret Pichler (CSOM), a former Peace Corps volunteer, is flanked by (from left) James Schoenecker, Marc Cicero and George Good, all of whom plan to enter the Peace Corps after graduation. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)
Galligan's stories blend with those of the more than 500 other BC alumni who have served in the Peace Corps in its 38-year history. The University has long been one of New England's largest suppliers of volunteers to the organization. This year, 13 former and current students, including three from the Class of 1999, will enter the Peace Corps, joining the 28 alumni currently serving the standard two-year stint in such countries as Ecuador, Niger, Samoa, Guatemala, Tonga and Slovakia.

In a new era of international service among today's college students, the Peace Corps might seem a relic from an earlier generation. But Boston College and Peace Corps representatives say the organization remains vital and relevant, especially for those schooled in the Jesuit and Catholic tradition.

"Boston College has a strong identification with public service," said Rae Mims, public affairs specialist with the Peace Corps regional office in Boston. "It's a place where a lot of people know the Peace Corps and what it's about, so you're not having to start from scratch."

"The name recognition was big for me," agreed James Schoenecker '99, a history major who will teach English in the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan. "There are many different programs and many would probably offer a very good experience. But the Peace Corps has a global name, it's been around for a long time and is quite well-established."

"They continually make an effort to recast themselves," said Career Center Assistant Director for Recruiting Marie Geary. "The Peace Corps doesn't just keep doing what they've been doing and resting on their laurels. That's the reason they have done, and continue to do so well here. Students here look for an opportunity like this."

Asst. Prof. Pegaret Pichler (CSOM) can attest to the shifting attitudes and circumstances which challenge a long-standing service organization. After completing her engineering studies in 1979, she turned down lucrative job offers to serve in the Peace Corps, teaching advanced mathematics and physics in Ghana.

"The old idea was you joined the Peace Corps because you couldn't get a job," quipped Pichler. "That certainly wasn't true in my case and I think it's even less true today. The fact is, going right after you graduate is the perfect time to do it. It's an adventure, certainly, but it's also a chance for personal and intellectual growth."

Schoenecker and his classmates display a mix of egalitarianism and pragmatism when they discuss the Peace Corps. They view their upcoming service as a way to see other cultures and ways of life, to experience on a first-hand basis the issues and concerns they have read about or discussed as students, but also as a means to exploring how they might integrate their interest with their future vocations.

"It's a merging of many things," said senior business administration major Marc Cicero, who will serve as a business development advisor in Honduras. "It's a meaningful job, an international opportunity, a chance to develop skills I've learned, and most of all, it's a challenge."

"I think that, somehow, what I do in China will be part of what I want to do," said George Good, a senior communication major who will teach English in China. "In terms of volunteerism or public service, I don't know how this experience will influence me. But I don't think anyone can come out after two years and not be changed."

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