PAIR AMONG FIRST PEACE CORPS VOLUNTEERS TO RETURN OVERSEAS
Two recent University of San Diego alumnae are among the first Peace Corps volunteers to return overseas since the agency’s unprecedented global evacuation in March 2020. The Peace Corps states that nearly 7,000 volunteers from more than 60 countries were evacuated. Now, the agency is ready to get back to work, sending its first volunteers to seven countries in North, Central and South America.
“Our volunteers are ready to work hand in hand with communities across the Americas to meet this moment,” says Peace Corps CEO Carol Spahn. “The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are far-reaching and the work of our partners and volunteers is critical to response and recovery efforts across the globe.”
USD alumnae Paige Hopkins ’20 (BA) and Riley Morales ’22 (BBA) are currently serving in the Dominican Republic and Colombia, respectively.
Before leaving the United States for the Dominican Republic, Hopkins (pictured) had her suitcases sprawled on the floor of her bedroom in Seattle, Washington.
“I think my biggest challenge right now is finding clothing that is professional, cool and comfortable,” she says, with a smile. “It’s going to be between 75 and 80 percent humidity.”
Peace Corps volunteers focus their work on one of six sectors — agriculture, community economic development, education, environment, health or youth in development. For Hopkins, her work is in education. She’ll be teaching Spanish literacy to children.
“Most programs focus on English literacy, but in the Dominican Republic, I can actually teach Spanish,” says Hopkins. “I’ve been watching Spanish television shows and combing through my Spanish notes from USD to review verb tenses.”
Her experiences at USD prepared her for this moment. She majored in international relations, minored in Spanish, and studied abroad in Madrid, keeping her Spanish skills sharp.
“I really loved USD because it has such a global focus and the faculty really encourages you to take opportunities to get outside of the United States and learn about different perspectives,” she says.
It was the encouragement that Hopkins received from her professors that inspired her to consider applying for the Peace Corps after her graduation in May 2020. Despite the Peace Corps shutting down its operations overseas, Hopkins applied in June 2020 and stayed in communication with the agency for about a year and a half. By February 2022, she was notified that the Dominican Republic was opening back up and accepting volunteers again. She would be one of them.
Similarly to Hopkins, Morales was also made aware of the Peace Corps through her experiences at USD as an international business major. A fellow member in the USD Model United Nations club encouraged her to look into the opportunities that Peace Corps provided for recent graduates. She attended an on-campus presentation and immediately knew she’d found her calling.
“I believe the culture of the Changemaking campus and other organizations, such as Student International Business Council, greatly influenced me to pursue this international service opportunity,” says Morales. “I wanted an opportunity to do social impact work directly following graduation.”
She’ll be volunteering in Colombia for 27 months and will work with the Community Economic Development program. Morales will collaborate with local stakeholders in Colombia to empower micro-entrepreneurs, leaders of partner organizations and community members to improve the economic outcomes for women and youth.
“I’m ecstatic about this opportunity!” she says. “I’m most excited to live abroad with my host family. I feel this will be the best way to achieve the cultural immersion experience that I desire, having not been able to study abroad during my time as an undergraduate, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Both Hopkins and Morales are now in their respective countries, undertaking the work they set out to do. As for nerves about settling into their new lives, the two seem even-keeled.
“The only thing that would be devastating is if there were another health crisis that would require the U.S. government to call back volunteers,” says Morales. “But I feel very confident in the Peace Corps and the precautions they have in place for volunteers, which allows us to focus on our work.”
Currently, the Peace Corps is recruiting volunteers to serve in more than 30 countries around the globe. Since President John F. Kennedy established the agency in 1961, more than 240,000 Americans have served in more than 140 countries.
Since the Peace Corps lifted its suspension this summer, volunteers have returned to 11 countries to continue their work. — Kelsey Grey ’15 (BA)
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