Is The Peace Corps A Cop Out?

| November 23, 2016 | 0 Comments

I wanted to apply for the Peace Corps. I want to work abroad for a substantial part of my life, and it seemed like a great way to get my foot in the door, but the more I read, the more I became disenchanted. The Peace Corps is a great way for Americans to gain exposure to life outside of the United States and to build up their resumes. And while I’m sure that many of the people who work with the Peace Corps stay abroad to continue humanitarian work, I’d bet that even more of them return home, add it to their resumes, enjoy the comforts of modern American life, and go on to pursue a job that in no way gives back to the cause they so diligently dedicated themselves to for two years.

I don’t want to be a part of that.  I don’t want to be a part of an organization that either knowingly or unknowingly allows Americans to perpetuate a help-obligate culture or things like “voluntourism.” So what, you went to Guinea or Morocco or Ukraine? The real question is whether or not you used that experience as a stepping stone to do something better and bigger than yourself or just as a way to make yourself feel better about being an American so that you could go on to become the CEO of a company without feeling guilty for not putting real effort towards the human cause. Are you empathetic or just sympathetic? Do you feel pity for the people in developing countries or genuine motivation to actually make a change—a change bigger than teaching English in a classroom or giving vaccination shots?

photo credit: Nguyen Vu Hung (vuhung) How to run an effective meeting via photopin (license)

photo credit: Nguyen Vu Hung (vuhung) How to run an effective meeting via photopin (license)

I may not know much as an inexperienced not-yet-college-grad; however, my experience as a minority in this country has opened up my eyes to the way in which Americans so easily fall into the trap of thinking they are making a difference while failing to act–thinking that by helping those who are less fortunate, they are recognizing their privilege. But that is all far from the truth.

In today’s Western World, going to a developing country to do humanitarian work is becoming the norm. Your best friend went on a trip to Guatemala to give vaccinations to a secluded, rural community. The president of an organization you are in went to Morocco for a few months to teach English. The person you just met in the GSU went to London to do work with homeless. Each one of those people has done an amazing thing, but don’t for one second allow yourself, or them for that matter, to believe they have just saved that community, that country, the world.

They have merely completed one good act, but that one good act requires constant acknowledgement. If you are not constantly re-examining what your experience in a developing country taught you, if you are not constantly questioning how global systems interact, if you are not constantly contemplating how you can converse with others to bring them a little more global awareness, then you are no better than the modern “voluntourist.” You are the person who goes to Uganda and posts pictures on Instagram with little Ugandan children and reduces the continent of Africa to the little town you stayed in in Uganda.

photo credit: Visions Service Adventures edit via photopin (license)

photo credit: Visions Service Adventures edit via photopin (license)

This isn’t simply a problem that the Peace Corps faces; it’s a problem that all humanitarian organizations face due to America’s help-obligate culture. Everyone always says they want to change the world, but to change the world we must first realize that it’s not enough to volunteer for a few years in a developing country. Changing the world means having constant conversations. It means constantly questioning what we believe to be true, what we believe to be false, and our place among it all. Changing the world means being permanently active and proactive—not occasionally active enough so that you can enhance your resume and shed yourself of that guilty feeling.

photo credit: MTSOfan A Full-Time Horticulturalist via photopin (license)

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Category: featured, Food and Travel, Politics, Reflections, Social Activism

Kayla Nguyen

About the Author ()

Kayla is a Senior studying Biological Anthropology and Arabic. She is from a small town in Wisconsin--her inspiration for coming to Boston. When she's not writing blog articles, she enjoys cooking, watching movies with giant bowls of popcorn, and considering going to the gym.

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