Student perspective: Why I'm joining the Peace Corps

A photo of the Peace Corps logo. The Peace Corps is a volunteer program run by the U.S. government. The program is a service opportunity for people to work in a community abroad with local leaders to combat challenges of this generation, according to the Peace Corps' website. (Image courtesy Google Images Creative Commons)

Upon telling people that my plans after graduation are to teach English in the Southeastern African nation of Malawi for two years in the Peace Corps, the responses generally fall into two categories: a benign “oh cool” or a question about my motivations. Expressing the convictions behind a life-altering decision to someone in a casual conversation can be fairly challenging, and given how much I’ve been doing it recently, I thought I would try to lay my reasons out as best I can for both myself and anybody curious about that path.

The narrative of a young college student not knowing what to do with their life and stalling for a couple years by running off to travel is common enough to be almost cliché at this point. Applying it as a blanket characterization, however, fails to do justice to what pushed me to give two years of my life to the Peace Corps. Although it’s difficult to say where it comes from, among the most defining parts of my personality is a deep sense of restlessness.

I’ve felt a compulsion to leave a situation when I feel defined by its comfort; that was what drove me to be an exchange student in Brazil for my junior year of high school and what made me spend last semester in Hong Kong and Southeast Asia. Going to these places and satisfying that urge has always been a temporary victory, however. Every time I’ve come back, a voice begins nipping at my conscience, growing in intensity during my complacency until it’s impossible to ignore. Instead of trying to bury it and go to straight to graduate school, I decided to let it loose.

Now if that’s why I want to go anywhere but here, why go to Malawi? In essence, the answer is the starkness of difference. I strongly believe that the best growth occurs in the face of adversity, and one of the least developed countries in Africa provides that opportunity. A way to see how a culture functions without the developments which define so much of our modern lives and to, hopefully, gain a better understanding about what makes a person fundamentally human regardless of their background was profoundly attractive to me. Malawi’s moniker as the “Warm Heart of Africa,” a name earned by the people’s reputation for openness and warmth, together with the nation’s strikingly beautiful scenery, made the specific decision of the country easier.

And if that’s why I want to go to Malawi, why teach with the Peace Corps? A big piece, I’ll admit, is the financial reality. Paid airfare, living expenses, and forgiveness of my student debt make it viable for a college student with an ailing checking account. Teaching also runs in my family, and I’ve gotten a great amount of satisfaction tutoring student athletes here at UConn. Teaching English is just about the best thing I can do in the Peace Corps with my liberal arts skill set, and I’m excited to have the opportunity to do some good while enjoying the family business.

I’d like to say that joining the Peace Corps had been part of a carefully charted course for me. But in reality, I was seized by the idea one day in July. After idly investigating it earlier in college, on a particularly dreary drive into my summer job I resolved that I needed to do something drastic. The Peace Corps was the best way I could envision to further the demands of building a professional life, do some good in the world and perhaps most importantly for me, satisfy the writhing wanderlust of youth while I’m still young.  And of course, I haven’t left yet. My tenure in the Peace Corps could certainly be a spectacular failure. But I knew I owed it to myself to try.


Carl Costa is a contributor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached by email at carl.costa@uconn.edu