Temple Alumni a force in the Peace Corps

With more than 450 Temple graduates having served in the Peace Corps since 1961, the volunteer group promoted itself at a Study Abroad Fair.

Unlike the majority of the booths, the Peace Corps had a different route to offer at the fair held last Tuesday. Instead of studying at a university, it offered to become a member of a community.

Last year, there were 21 Temple graduates and 10 undergraduates in service.

Jennifer Bert, a 2003 Temple grad, served from 2006 to 2008 in Castleton, Jamaica. She said the Peace Corps prepared her for graduate school at the University of Pittsburg for master’s degree in Public and International Affairs.

“It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be,” Bert said.

Bert worked at the Castleton Botanical Garden, where she was the main facilitator of the Clay Pottery Project, which sold locally-made clay cups and bowls to thousands of tourists. She also wrote a grant for a bus shelter that was destroyed by a drunken driver.

“It showed me I was really part of the community,” Bert said.

The Peace Corps is searching for applicants who are independent, understanding, patient and proficient in various languages. Volunteers can serve among 70 countries, training locals and promoting a better understanding of Americans.

Volunteers assist countries through education and youth development, HIV awareness, environment conservation practices, business advancement and information technology. They receive financial support during their service and afterwards.

Kenneth Nicholson, a 1968 Temple alumnus, served two terms in the Peace Corps. Prior to his service, Nicholson moved from Arlington, Vermont to study at Temple. He earned his master’s degree in science education.

“[Temple] allowed me to expand my horizons in science education to teach in my hometown,” Nicholson said.

Nicholson and his wife first joined the Peace Corps from 1971 to 1973. At the time the couple was permitted to bring their 2-year-old and 4-year-old children to St. Lucia. Although they were unlike the other 100 volunteers who were recent college graduates, their difference allowed them to integrate better with families.

Nicholson taught biology to 6th graders and teachers who were earning their secondary degrees. At the time, anyone could become a teacher after graduating from the 6th grade. He helped young teachers discover new methods. St. Lucia had a suffering economy that could not support institutions with science text books or materials. He said he taught teachers “how to use the natural environment as a platform” and how to perform simple experiments.

After the first mission, Nicholson and his wife returned to their reserved teaching positions. In 1997, he retired from teaching.

From 2001 to 2003, he and his wife embarked on another Peace Corps mission. This time they went to Shumen, Bulgaria.

Despite a slight language barrier, Nicholson said he and his wife adapted to the community of retired Bulgarians. He taught at a selective secondary school where he organized an ecology club, which conducted field trips to international conferences in Berlin, Germany and Odessa, Ukraine.

On explaining his return to the Peace Corps, Nicholson said, “When we went back 30 years later. The idealism and ambiance was the same. It had not lost any of its idealism.”

Bert said the Peace Corps was her ticket to experience a different part of the world.

“It’s not time out of your life,” Bert said “It is your life.”

Arty Kern can be reached at arthur.kern@temple.edu.

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