When she was growing up, Lauren Aylward would spin the globe her mother bought her. She would pick a new country and learn about it.
By the time IU senior Aylward was a junior in high school, she knew she was going to join the Peace Corps.
Preparing to travel to Cambodia in July, Aylward will join the numerous other IU alumni who choose to join the Peace Corps.
Moving up 13 positions, IU-Bloomington was ranked No. 7 in the Peace Corps’ list of top volunteer-producing universities nationwide for 2015.
This year, 47 Peace Corps volunteers are IU-Bloomington alumni. This is up from 36 volunteers last year.
Laura Fonseca, senior associate director of employer relations, is an IU alumna who served in the Peace Corps and was a recruiter.
Fonseca said IU really emphasizes the creation of global citizens. Through the numerous languages offered and the opportunities to learn from global scholars, students can learn about the world.
“It’s a large community of people that understand our responsibility as individuals to make a better world,” Fonseca said.
Since the inception of the Peace Corps, 1,635 IU alumni have served as volunteers, according to an IU press release.
Thomas Pearson, an IU alumnus, is currently in his last three months serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Nicaragua. Pearson said the strong liberal arts education IU offers might play a large role in the amount of volunteers IU produces.
“It pushes people to think about the world,” Pearson said. “It gets people thinking about global issues through a lot of those classes.”
Pearson said those with a liberal arts background tend to be the best volunteers.
“It’s important to have technical skills, but the most important thing is being flexible,” Pearson said.
Pearson always had the Peace Corps in the back of his mind. Majoring in economics and mathematics, Pearson knew he wanted to go into development. However, most development jobs required at least two years of experience.
It seemed like the best place to start getting experience was the Peace Corps, Pearson said.
Pearson never thought he would actually do it, but once his senior year came around, he knew it was the right time.
“I realized that if I wasn’t going to do it after college, I wouldn’t do it any other time,” Pearson said.
With his two years almost over, Pearson said the most important takeaway is the professional skills he’s gained. These skills include speaking to large groups and working in a political environment.
“That’s something I underestimated,” Pearson said. “I didn’t realize how much I would develop professionally.”
At the time Pearson joined, his recruiter was Fonseca.
Fonseca said she always knew she would do the Peace Corps. For her, the perfect time was after she finished graduate school at the University of Florida.
Fonseca and her husband then joined and traveled to Ukraine to work as English education volunteers. Fonseca used her own experience to help teachers in Ukraine learn to collaborate with each other.
Once she finished her two years, Fonseca decided to become a recruiter at IU-Bloomington. Fonseca said she wasn’t done learning.
Now Fonseca works for IU’s Arts and Sciences Career Services.
After working for four years as a recruiter, Fonseca got to know students, faculty, staff and how the University works. Because of that experience, she said taking a job as a career advisor was the next natural step.
Currently co-teaching an English classroom in Thailand, Jenny Wininger said IU deepened her understanding of how to help not only at a local level, but also on a global scale.
Wininger said her experiences at IU helped her understand everyone has something to contribute.
“We can all grow as we learn from one another,” Wininger said. “Together anything is attainable.”
For Fonseca, the Peace Corps taught her how to fail. But it also taught her how to get back up again.
Fonseca said as humans, we think we know everything. The Peace Corps, however, forces its volunteers to listen.
“You spend the first few months learning that you’re wrong about most things,” Fonseca said. “My Peace Corps service was the hardest thing I’ve ever done professionally.”
Pearson said the Peace Corps teaches volunteers the reality of life in a developing world.
Discussions in developed nations about developing countries make it sound like there are easy solutions, Pearson said.
“The problems are always more complicated than they seem,” Pearson said. “Only by living with people and understanding the situation will let people really come up with sustainable solutions.”
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