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Peace Corps Q&A panel to be held at WWU

An opportunity for budding student volunteers to get answers right from the source

Jerry Smith stands behind the Peace Corps stand at the Career Fair at Western in Feb. 2023. Western students will have another opportunity to talk with Smith at the Educational Career and Internship Fair on March 8. // Photo Courtesy of Jerry Smith.

Western Washington University’s Peace Corps Recruiter, Jerry Smith, is hosting a Q&A panel of former Peace Corps volunteers for students interested in becoming a part of the Peace Corps on Wednesday, Feb. 28.

“You have to allow yourself to be open to anything and everything and work at being comfortable with not always knowing what might happen next,” said Aurora Fox, a Peace Corps volunteer. “Getting involved with the locals in the culture as much as you can, that really makes a difference.”

Peace Corps is an organization that allows volunteers to live and work alongside communities all around the world. Volunteers can work in agriculture, community economic development, education, environment, health and youth in development according to the Peace Corps website.

“It's a federal program that is separate from the State Department and separate from the Department of Defense,” Smith said. “It's its own entity, its own reporting structure and the federal government. It was made to help countries with their skill training in six different areas.”

Former President John F. Kennedy created the Peace Corps in March of 1961 to provide Americans with an alternative way to serve their country without having to go to war, according to the Peace Corps website.

Volunteers can currently help out in over 52 countries and the Peace Corps are still adding more countries to this list each year, Smith said. Countries are added to the Peace Corps via request in which the sender establishes what said country needs and how many volunteers they need. 

“There's not a bandstand welcoming you with open arms to make changes in that country,” said Marsha Partlow, a volunteer in the 10th Peace Corps group sent to Jamaica and Peace Corps trainer. “Like everything else, the whole population doesn't decide they want you, it's a few people who have an idea of what they want.”

Peace Corps volunteers will get a monthly allowance and the organization will give volunteers more than $10,000 to get back on their feet after they are done volunteering, according to Smith. 

Last year, Washington state ranked ninth among the highest Peace Corps recruitment makeup, with 53 volunteers serving in 2023, according to the Peace Corps website. 

“At age 62, it was the best life decision I ever made,” Fox said.

According to the Peace Corps website, they accept anyone 18 years or older to serve, has to be a U.S. citizen through birth or by naturalization, veterans or active military members that service doesn't interfere with any obligations they may have.

“I like to encourage all young people to do it,” Fox said. “It's a great experience.”

Along with advice and guidance to Western students interested in becoming a volunteer, panelists will also share stories and experiences about their time serving.

“It was a culture shock,” Smith said  about what it was like coming back to America after volunteering. “When I flew back from Africa to JFK Airport in New York, I got in the airport and there's a water fountain every 20 feet in the airport. When I was in Africa, there were no water fountains.”

Before the Q&A panel, Smith will be holding a Peace Corps trivia session on Feb. 28, from 12 to 1 p.m. in Viking Union room 552 to celebrate Peace Corps week. Peace Corps week is from Feb. 25 to March 2 in celebration of  the day John F. Kennedy established the agency on March 1, 1961. 

To hear more about the volunteers' experiences, the Q&A panel will take place on Wednesday, Feb. 28, from 4 to 5 p.m. in Miller Hall room 138. 

“I believe that any experience, like the Peace Corps, expands your awareness,” Partlow said. “You will never be the same person again.”

Courtney Sipila

Courtney Sipila (she/her) is a campus life reporter for The Front this quarter. She is a second-year visual journalism/marketing major. Outside of reporting on the people of Western, Courtney enjoys playing soccer, video games, and watching movies. You can reach her at

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