Peace Corps volunteer shares experiences

Former USF student Dan Barrera spends his days working with a struggling artisan group in Madagascar as a business adviser.

Barrera, who has been serving as a Peace Corps volunteer (PCV) in Madagascar for 18 months, since March 2011, visited USF on Tuesday afternoon to share his experience volunteering so far.

Theres no such thing as a typical day, he said. I wake up and Ill go grab some fresh bananas. Ill go and socialize a little and then Ill travel on my bike about 15 kilometers north. I live in kind of a town square, so my town gets going around 9 (a.m). I go and visit those in the town and see if theres anything new going on.

Barrera was inspired to join the Peace Corps during his junior year in college, after visiting his sister, who was a PCV in Costa Rica.

I have family from the developing world and Ive lived there with them, and I noticed there could be some help given. Its very fulfilling and satisfying, he said.

He said he wanted to go wherever his help was needed.

As a Peace Corps volunteer, were not told were in a developing world, Barrera said. I want to say we are Americans that want to help somebody else.

When PCVs arrive in their assigned country, they are given three months of training before beginning their overseas assignments, which last 24 months. Those who serve can choose to continue working with Peace Corps in additional countries.

Youre never going to be ready for what you are experiencing, Barrera said. I think it just depends on your mindset.

Barrera had little training when he originally signed up to join the Peace Corps.

It was general, but it was enough, he said. You have language training and cultural and societal training, but then you build around that. They can only give you so much training.

While working with the Peace Corps, Barrera has learned to speak Malagasy, the native language of Madagascar.

USF Peace Corps Representative Christy Prouty said she served as a community health volunteer in Uganda from 2010-12.

You wont have another experience like it, she said. Its not possible to convey that until you have been a Peace Corps volunteer. Youre a member of a group who has similar interests but who all maintain their own individuality, and youre going somewhere for a common goal to promote a common good.

Sophomore public health major Amber Windsor attended the presentation because she is interested in joining the Peace Corps, and is considering the idea of participating in the Masters International Program.

Masters International is a Peace Corps program that allows students to combine graduate school with Peace Corps service, and service time can be applied to a students degree as academic credit.

I like service and want to focus on less fortunate communities, and I want to help in another country, Windsor said.

Windsor said that as PCV she would like to gain skills such as resourcefulness and be able to find a way to solve my own problems and to find my own way.

The Peace Corps recruiters were also available to students earlier Tuesday, during the Study Abroad Fair at Sessums Mall. At the fair, students were able to receive information on various study abroad opportunities, such as semester exchange programs and internships abroad.

Prouty said students who want to join the Peace Corps should volunteer in their communities.

If you want to help yourself from now until your application is due, you should volunteer. Its fun, realistic and (the experience) can be applied when you do become a Peace Corps volunteer, she said.

The Peace Corps is recruiting for international assignments that will depart in 2013. College seniors who would like to serve after their graduation are encouraged to begin their applications. Because of the extensive application process, those interested should turn in applications by the end of this month, Prouty said.