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What the Fellows Bring to MU

From an interview with Peace Corps Fellows, MU's Peace Corps Fellows Program

The Peace Corps fellows are enrolled in one of six programs: Geography, Truman School of Public Affairs, School of Social Work, Agricultural Economics, Rural Sociology, and Political Science. The Peace Corps Fellowship Program benefits the returned volunteers with financial support, but there are also deep benefits to the MU community. Just having these remarkable fellows around the departments, classrooms, and hallways of MU helps to fulfill Chancellor Deaton’s goal of globalizing the campus.

The Peace Corps is active at MU on several levels, explains Donald Spiers, Coordinator for the Peace Corps Fellows Program, which was adopted by MU in the summer of 2007. “Going through the Peace Corps experience, immersing yourself in the culture, speaking the local language: that all opens different cultural doors and different ways of looking at the world,” Craig Hutton observes. “I think that is part of what we bring to MU’s campus and hopefully to the larger community as well.”

Kate Fjell offers similar sentiments: “Having been a Peace Corps volunteer, my entire perspective is so different. I think globally, or at least I try to. It is really hard for me just to think about what something means just for Missouri or for my town or my family. I’m always thinking about other people out there in the world.”

Because few Americans know much about Malawi, Ecuador, Paraguay, Niger, the Caucasus, and Armenia, having someone at MU talking and writing about these places helps to educate others about these faraway locations. Nick Spina, for instance, sees how his unique Peace Corps experience benefits the field in which he is currently studying: “Political scientists do a lot of work in international relations, and I bring a unique perspective to that. I was in a developing country for two years doing hands-on development work, so I know more than just what you would read in a book.”

“There are a lot of students who don’t have international experience,” Matt Rysavy notes, “so just being able to be in class and add a different idea or a different way of looking at or structuring problems… I think is very useful for other people. The American value system is so much different from a West African value system, so just incorporating that into different discussions, group projects, and papers [is helpful]. There have been a lot of times after class when people have said, ‘I never really thought of approaching a problem that way.’”

Offering another example from the classroom, Julie Feeney explains: “A lot of people say, ‘You went to a developing country? You must have seen so much poverty.’ I can say, ‘Well, there is poverty here in the United States, which I have seen and is equally as horrifying.’” “I think class discussion is always enriched by having as many different view points [as possible],” concludes Fjell. “They all enrich the conversation…. I’m just another of those people who can help provide a different perspective.”