Peace Corps Week: The First Goal

Peace Corps week, February 23–March 1, celebrates the goals of the organization and the difference that Peace Corps volunteers make abroad and at home. International Relations Online is proud to participate in this event as there are numerous RPCVs currently enrolled in the School of International Service at American University.

The first Peace Corps goal is to help the people of interested countries meet their need for trained men and women. We asked one SIS student Joanna Lucy Soon Im Mahoney a series of questions related to her experience with the Peace Corps and how her work helped promote the Peace Corps’ first goal.

Peace Corps service allowed me to experience—rather than just understand intellectually—the challenges and complexities of international development.

Name: Joanna Lucy Soon Im Mahoney

Current Location: American University, Washington, D.C.

Where and when did you serve as a Peace Corps volunteer?

Meri, Far North, Cameroon (2011–2013)

What was your assignment?

I was an education volunteer, assigned to teach English to high school students, but I also acted as a youth development volunteer and took on some business sector responsibilities. The great thing about the Peace Corps is that it is so flexible.

How did your work directly impact those you served? Can you provide an example?

Teaching English to three different grades in my village high school allowed me to directly connect with the students in my classrooms. I tried to integrate subjects that they would not normally have been exposed to, such as women’s rights, globalization issues, environmentalism, etc., into my English lessons. Cameroon is officially a bilingual country, so being able to speak English is a useful and necessary skill for students to obtain if they intend to continue their education. Also, by merely being present, punctual, and prepared for class, I set an example and countered teacher truancy, which was a major issue in my community.

What are three qualities every Peace Corps volunteer should possess and why?

  • Adaptability: The Peace Corps places a heavy emphasis on promoting cultural understanding. Volunteers are invited to serve by the host country and must accept the invitation to become a volunteer. For this reason, I think it’s important to try to be as adaptable to the local culture as you can without compromising your own identity. In other words, “when in Rome, do as the Romans.” It is equally as important, I believe, to share American culture but only after you first understand and respect the host culture.
  • Resiliency: Some bad things are most likely going to happen to you during your service. Whether it is illness, robbery, accidents, running out of money, getting verbally harassed, or being evacuated from your post because of a political uprising or terrorism, it would be a shame to let these events influence or dictate the success of your service and overshadow all the good things that happen the majority of the time. Being a successful volunteer relies upon the ability to cope with setbacks and to navigate back to a sense of normalcy.
  • A sense of humor: It will make your experience more pleasant for yourself and those around you. Laughter is universal and can help make an awkward situation more comfortable.

How has the Peace Corps changed your life?

As a Peace Corps volunteer in Cameroon, I learned that the keys to successful project management are working in the community frequently and on a long-term basis and letting the community decide what it values the most. Peace Corps service allowed me to experience—rather than just understand intellectually—the challenges and complexities of international development. The Peace Corps also broadened my perspective on development by challenging my belief system and teaching me about its complexities while reaffirming my choice to pursue a career in international development.

Read more of our Peace Corps content.