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Wed May 14, 2014
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Peace Corps Still Sending Tenneseans Overseas

MTSU students gather around Peace Corps recruiter Maggie Flinn to ask questions about serving overseas.
Credit WMOT

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (WMOT)  --  You may have flashbacks to the 1960s when you hear the name "Peace Corps," but the agency is still operating and still recruiting Americans to serve overseas.

Peace Corp recruiter Maggie Flinn was recently on the campus of Middle Tennessee State University trolling for applicants. The Peace Corps currently has just over 7000 volunteers serving in more than 100 nations worldwide. Flinn says the mission hasn’t changed since President Kennedy launched the organization in 1961.

“The Peace Corps’ goal is to send able men and women to countries that have requested their help," she said.  "One of their main goals is to share the culture of the United States with those countries and also to bring back their culture to share with other citizens.”

Flinn says the agency is looking to bump up recruiting, but one of the things holding them back is a basic misunderstanding many people have about how volunteers are treated.

“There’s the impression that Peace Corps puts you on a plane and flies you to a third world country, kicks you off the plane, gives you a map and says ‘Good luck!’ There’s a lot more that goes into it than that. You do get training, you do meet people and there is a support system in-country for you,” Flinn said.

Peace Corps applicant Darius Robinson of East Nashville certainly isn’t put off by the challenge. Robinson just graduated from MTSU with a degree in Criminal Justice and hopes to teach HIV awareness classes for the Corps in South Africa.

“I’m from an underprivileged community'" Robinson explained. "I’ve come a long way, but I know how it is. So any opportunity I see to give back, that’s what I want to do.”

Robinson says his parents aren’t as excited as he is about the possibility of his serving overseas for two years, but their coming around.

“They’re afraid. My family doesn’t travel a lot. I’ll actually be the first one in my family to leave the country, but that motivates me even more,” he said.

MTSU alums Shannon Anderson and her husband Danny served with the Peace Corps between 2010 and 2012. They taught English to grade school children in Eastern Ukraine. She says the first few weeks were hard, but the host family she was initially placed with help make the transition bearable.

“They really showed us right off the bat that the Ukrainian people are so kind and so hospitable," Anderson recalled. "And really, any country you go to, people are just people. They were very kind and very hospitable.”

Anderson says that, ironically, one of the most difficult parts of her Peace Corps stint was returning to the U.S. where so few Americans are interested in what she experienced.

“You can’t really relate to a lot of people about that. It’s nice that I served with my husband, because now we can talk about it. We still speak in Russian to each other,” she said.

Anderson says the pair also attend monthly gatherings of mid-state Peace Corp veterans which gives them still more opportunity to talk about the experience. Peach Corps recruiter Maggie Flinn notes the agency does try to make overseas assignment manageable. Volunteers get a small stipend, insurance, 3 months training, several weeks of vacation, and in-country support. She notes that, increasingly, the Peace Corps is attracting older Americans looking for a new challenge.

“When I served there was a couple in their early 70s. I know another person in the Atlanta office who served with ‘Miss Ellie’ who was 78 when she served,” she said.

Flinn says that, regardless what age you might be, it’s important for volunteers to be honest with themselves about just how much of a challenge they’re willing to undertake.

“We do want you to go abroad and have this experience, especially if you’re interested and you want to help other people," Flinn explained. "But what we don’t want is people to leave midway through their service.”

Peace Corps alum Shannon Anderson says she has no reservations about recommending the experience.

“It will change you and in a good way. I feel like my skills were built in a huge way. I feel so much more capable now coming back,” she said.

If you’d like to explore what serving overseas might look like, check out the agency’s website at PeaceCorps.gov. For WMOT, I’m Mike Osborne in Murfreesboro.