International experiences

For returning Peace Corps volunteers, the next stop is Fletcher

Each fall, approximately 190 students enroll in the Fletcher School. Interestingly, 7 to 10 percent of these newcomers arrive as Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs). As required, all are American citizens, and nearly all have completed the requisite 27 months of volunteer service in any one of the 69 countries in which the Peace Corps operates.

Kai Jeffers, F06, wants to work with an ethnic minority group in the developing world. Mark Morelli

This year's new Fletcher class includes 14 RPCVs out of 193 entering students; they have served in 11 countries—from Russia, to Uganda to Ecuador—on four continents. They have returned to the United States, bringing with them memories and experiences about cultures and countries few Americans will ever visit—or perhaps, even be able to locate on a map.

The experiences of these volunteers are as diverse as the Fletcher School itself. Kai Jeffers, F06, served in the Ukraine and spent three years in a small town on the Slovak/Ukrainian border. "The Peace Corps was an amazing experience, I met great people, gained a new language and learned much more than I taught," she says.

Jeffers was assigned to teach English to fifth- through eighth-graders and extended her service for a third year to work with the ethnic Roma (gypsies) in her region of the Ukraine. "Teaching was a little rough at first," she admits, "but in the end, I'd formed real bonds with my students and still keep in contact with some."

In addition to teaching, she also worked as a community development volunteer. "I worked with a nonprofit organization in my city. We basically wrote grants and carried out projects to improve the lives of the Roma in our region," she says. "The project that I'm most proud of is that we built a humanitarian center in the Roma section of town. It has a youth drop-in center and a medical clinic. Now the Roma in Uzhgorod have a place where they know they will be respected."

For many of the RPCVs, coming to graduate school after their Peace Corps service was part of their plan. For others, it was their experience abroad that got them interested in international affairs.

Evan Tracz, F05, who worked in Turkmenistan, says, "If not for the Peace Corps, I never would have gotten interested in international affairs. The Peace Corps made the foreign and far-flung somehow tangible and made me realize that individual efforts can have an impact on people, nations and the international system."

Tracz chose to come to Fletcher because, he says, "It seemed like a place that recognizes the many faces of international affairs, and it allows students to explore their own experiences and choose their paths."

Indeed, the sense of self-exploration, resourcefulness and individuality—which is very much a part of a Peace Corps experience—is also something that draws RPCVs to Fletcher. "I think Fletcher appeals to the RPCV mentality," Jeffers says. "In my experience, most successful volunteers were intelligent but were not limited by their book knowledge. They wanted to get to know their colleagues and their host cultures. This is what makes Fletcher different--that concentration on the people involved, not just the theories."

For Shannon Burke, F05, another RPCV who worked in the Ukraine, Fletcher's draw was its flexible curriculum and sense of community. "After the freedom the Peace Corps gave me to create and implement programs at my site, I wanted an academic environment where I would have maximum freedom in choosing my classes and shaping my education," she says.

Many Peace Corps volunteers considering applying to graduate school use their free time to research educational opportunities. All three of the Fletcher RPCVs from the Ukraine applied from overseas, taking their GREs in a small room in the capital city of Kyiv. Fletcher also regularly advertises in Worldview, a quarterly magazine published by the National Peace Corps Association.

Peace Corps volunteers also experience Fletcher's international reputation first hand in their countries of service. They interact with Peace Corps staff, U.S. Foreign Service officers, NGO staff members, host country nationals and others who speak highly of or who are themselves Fletcher alumni.

Josh Strauss, F05, an RPCV from the Ukraine, says, "The [school] quickly caught my attention because I am very interested in both law and diplomacy. When I asked the country director [of Peace Corps Ukraine] where he thought I should apply, Fletcher was the only name he gave me."

Everett Peachey, F05, an RPCV who served in western Russia and Kazakhstan, says he had two friends at the U.S. embassy in Moscow who encouraged him to apply to Fletcher. "They knew me very well," he said, "and they knew that Fletcher would suit my interdisciplinary interests." Peachey went on to spend last summer working for the U.S. State Department, a career destination for many Fletcher graduates.

Kai Jeffers is looking to go in a slightly different direction: "I'd like to call on my Peace Corps experience and work with the Roma or another ethnic minority in the developing world," she says. "The Peace Corps gave me the will. Now I'm hoping that Fletcher will give me the skills and the knowledge."