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8 People Share How The Peace Corps Changed Their Lives

The two years abroad led these volunteers to career successes. Start your Peace Corps journey today!

Gabriel Itoka (Morocco, 2013–2015)

Courtesy of Gabriel Itoka

As a youth development volunteer, Gabriel taught English at the local youth houses, started sports clubs to increase extracurricular activities, and organized and facilitated life skills classes.

What opportunities did your time during the Peace Corps open up for you?

Peace Corps was a great help in getting me into business school. I will be attending Hult International Business School in Boston where I will be working to earn my MBA focusing on project management. Serving as a volunteer in Morocco created an opportunity for me to return to a place I consider my new home. During my service, I was able to learn Moroccan Arabic and learn about Islamic culture. I know I can always go back to Morocco, my second home, and reconnect with my community and friends or even start a future business venture there.

What are you currently up to in your career?

Currently, I am working for a small international development firm that manages assets in West Africa (Liberia, to be exact). I was born in Liberia, and I've always wanted to go back and contribute to rebuilding and creating opportunities so that the country can become prosperous again. We have around 2,000+ acres of farmland we are working on mechanizing in order to grow more crops to increase food security and eventually manufacture processed goods to be exported regionally and internationally.

Carrie Pavlik (Zambia, 2007–2009)

Courtesy of Carrie Pavlik

During her time in Zambia, Carrie was a rural education development volunteer. She worked with schools in her village to do teacher trainings, created a library, taught a life skills class to teens, started a school orchard and beekeeping club, and taught about HIV prevention.

What opportunities did your time during the Peace Corps open up for you?

I had a vague interest in farming beforehand, but it was definitely my Peace Corps service that inspired my current lifestyle and entrepreneurial ventures. My fellow villagers were mainly subsistence farmers, and I really admired that way of life. I tried my hand at gardening, chicken husbandry, goat husbandry, and beekeeping while in Zambia. When I returned to the US, my husband and I started keeping chickens, bees, and goats in Pittsburgh.

What are you currently up to in your career?

My husband and I own Steel City Grazers, Western Pennsylvania's only goat grazing company — we rent out goats to eat weeds. Using goats to eat unwanted plants is a proven method for vegetation management. Eating the leaves and small stems weakens the plant, and eating the seed pods prevents the plant from going to seed. Using goats for landscaping means you're using fewer herbicides and fossil fuels. Goats can go where people and machinery can't, such as steep hillsides, and they're not bothered by itchy or thorny plants. They leave behind free fertilizer...and they're cuter than a Weedwacker!

Mike Buckler (Malawi, 2006–2008)

Courtesy of Mike Buckner

Mike Buckner's primary assignment was teaching math, science, and English at a secondary school. His spare time was devoted to planting trees around the school's campus, organizing student trips to Malawi's natural wonders, and leading a nationwide camp organized by Peace Corps volunteers to advance the educations of promising students from undeserved areas.

What opportunities did your time during the Peace Corps open up for you?

Peace Corps gave me the opportunity to develop perspective. The most important thing I learned in Peace Corps is that people make sense when you take time to understand them. Encountering unfamiliar folks is hard and requires walking in their shoes and immersing yourself in their environments, including language, culture, and history. It’s grueling, but the resulting enlightenment is worth it.

What are you currently up to in your career?

I'm transitioning from law to public policy, studying the latter at Princeton University and serving as the CEO of Village X Org, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit I created to crowdfund for village-led development projects. The DNA of Village X is infused with Peace Corps lessons. Villages identify solutions to their problems. They contribute cash, labor, and materials, and we crowdfund the rest. Donors give to specific projects and receive immediate feedback in the form of photo updates. The best part of my job is receiving pictures of local people solving their problems without outside interference.

Jerica Ward (Philippines, 2009–2011)

Courtesy of Jerica Ward

During her time in the Peace Corps, Jerica worked as an education volunteer, started a library, taught out-of-school youth, planned teaching conferences, taught theater and music, and worked with the UN and USAID.

What opportunities did your time during the Peace Corps open up for you?

The life-changing experience as a volunteer in the Philippines provided me with essential skills to work in community and project development, which led to working as a manager of a refugee employment and training program in Baltimore City.

It showed me that community work requires a person to learn, listen, and love the community in order to make a sustainable impact. As volunteers, we do not have all the answers, and our role is to empower a community and support their goals in various sustainable projects.

What are you currently up to in your career?

I just joined the US Department of State as a Foreign Service Officer.

Brian Forde (Nicaragua, 2003–2005)

Courtesy of Brian Forde, Official White House Photo by Pete Souza / Via Courtesy of Brian Forde

As a small business and technology volunteer, Brian taught an entrepreneurship class to high school juniors and seniors and helped build a World Bank–funded computer lab at the high school and an e-commerce website for a local artisan.

What opportunities did your time during the Peace Corps open up for you?

Inspired by problems I saw during my time in the Peace Corps, I ended up staying in Nicaragua to start a small phone company with my co-founder, Edgard. It quickly grew to serve more than 250,000 Nicaraguans every month in rural towns across the country.

Building the company led to a job at the White House where I was the senior advisor for mobile and data innovation — looking at ways the US government could use emerging technologies in the wake of disasters such as Hurricane Sandy and the bankruptcy of Detroit.

After the White House, I co-founded and led a research group at MIT that studies cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and its underlying technology, blockchain. Based on my experience in Nicaragua, and significant interest by some of our graduate students and staff, we have been researching how cryptocurrencies can significantly improve financial inclusion in informal economies.

What are you currently up to in your career?

I'm a senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management where I co-teach several classes on cryptocurrencies and am researching and writing a new book.

Baktash Ahadi (Mozambique, 2005–2007)

Courtesy of Baktash Ahadi

Baktash Ahadi was an education volunteer who taught English and classes related to HIV/AIDS awareness. Additionally, he helped rebuild an orphanage.

What opportunities did your time during the Peace Corps open up for you?

First and foremost, I had the privilege of serving a community of generous and kind people in Mozambique, which ultimately changed my life. My experience in Mozambique was the best education of my life. It taught me to take risks, serve others, and enjoy the relationships that I foster. As a result, I decided to serve as a military translator in Afghanistan for three years, which allowed me to serve the country of my birth as well as my adopted country. While in Afghanistan, I not only supported the military but also had the privilege of translating for State Department and USAID advisors to the Afghan government. Upon returning from Afghanistan, I started a technology company called BlueCart with a dear friend who also served in Mozambique. The company was launched in July 2014 and has since moved to Silicon Valley to grow.

What are you currently up to in your career?

I am currently a producer and translator on a film called Frame by Frame, a full-length documentary about free speech and photojournalism in Afghanistan. I travel the US and abroad sharing the film with different audiences in order to give people a better understanding of what's happening in Afghanistan from an "on-the-ground" perspective. I also teach classes on Afghan culture and language at the Foreign Service Institute.

Stephanie Kasten (Ecuador, 2012–2014)

Courtesy of Stephanie Kasten

In Ecuador, Stephanie was a TEFL English teacher trainer, where she co-taught English at a public high school, supported the professional development of English teachers, and organized and facilitated workshops for English teachers from all over the region.

What opportunities did your time during the Peace Corps open up for you?

Being a Returned Peace Corps volunteer opened up my world and my opportunities in many ways that directly influence my life and work now. I walked into the post–Peace Corps job market more confident in myself and yet more humble.

What are you currently up to in your career?

I currently work in Cuenca, Ecuador, the same city where I worked as a Peace Corps volunteer, now as a senior team leader for Global Citizen Year, an organization that works to coordinate "bridge year" programs for 18-year-old fellows from all over the world. I love my job because it allows me to share my love of Ecuador by facilitating strong connections between Ecuadorians and foreigners, just as I did as a Peace Corps volunteer.

Joe Bagliere (Ukraine​,​ 2012–2014)

Courtesy of Joe Bagliere

Joe Bagliere's main focus while serving was teaching English in primary and secondary schools, working directly with over ​900​ Ukrainian children​ and colleagues​​ throughout his service​. ​His side projects​ included​ teaching wellness, HIV/AIDS awareness, youth empowerment, and diversity inclusion.

What opportunities did your time during the Peace Corps open up for you?

I had the opportunity to work across Ukraine with children and adults alike on various projects ranging in scope and size. I also had the chance to work in neighboring countries like Poland and Bulgaria through Wizard International Language School, a school that ran camps domestically and internationally for Ukrainian youth.

What are you currently up to in your career?

A very close friend of mine in the Peace Corps connected me with my current boss at a global media company. I’ve since relocated from California to New York City and currently work as a business coordinator in a department that creates video and graphics content for all digital, web, social, and mobile platforms of the company. Prior to arriving in NYC, I spent a little time in South Africa, and worked for six months at a local news station in the Bay Area, close to my hometown of Cupertino, California.

The Peace Corps gives volunteers new perspective, knowledge, and opportunities. What doors will your service open for you?

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