Since President Kennedy established the Peace Corps in 1961, over 220,000 volunteers have served in 140 different host countries across the world. Once assigned to a country, volunteers serve a variety of roles. Departments of specialization include education, development, and health. While actively working with communities, Peace Corps volunteers have to adapt to life in a new culture and environment.
Although passionate and eager to serve developing communities, Peace Corps volunteers may not necessarily have previous experience in their field of work. The sense of being “thrown into” such work can create both excitement and anxiety for new volunteers. Through their previous connections at home and their new connections abroad, Peace Corps volunteers successfully navigate their exciting and unexpected experiences.
Throughout their two years in the Peace Corps, many volunteers experience homesickness and a desire to remain informed on family matters despite being thousands of miles away from loved ones. Before email and the internet, volunteers communicated with family and friends through letters. Letters from Peace Corps volunteers show both enthusiasm for their work and a desire to also maintain connections with those back in the United States.
Although separated from home by oceans and continents, many Peace Corps volunteers form bonds and communities within their respective countries. One of the methods to help create bonds between fellow volunteers took the shape of grassroots newspapers and magazines. These newsletters contain editorials, poetry, recipes, book reviews, and announcements relevant to volunteers.
At times, PCV newspapers and magazines also provide volunteers with a creative space to express and share their Peace Corps experiences. In October 2001, Hurricane Iris struck Belize, causing millions of dollars of damage. Peace Corps Volunteer Alanna Randall was forced to relocate as a result. The Peace Corps assisted with Alanna’s move within Belize. She wrote about her experiences in the Toucan Times, a magazine for PCVs serving in Belize.
While traveling and serving abroad, Peace Corps Volunteers also gathered in person both to hangout and for official Peace Corps events.
While serving in Suriname, Brian Adler and his Peace Corps volunteer cohort were invited on at least one occasion for dinner at the U.S. Ambassador’s House. Brian recalled, “The Ambassador had a swimming pool and a volleyball court and even a life size cut-out of George Bush which I got Gabrielle, the American intern, to take my photo with. I’m looking forward to going back on Thanksgiving.” (Adler Diary, 2002-2004, pg. 16). Such events reminded volunteers of life back in the United States.
The Peace Corps experience is sometimes referred to as “The Toughest Job You’ll Ever Love.” Despite homesickness and the anxiety and difficulties of immersion in a foreign culture, many Peace Corps volunteers end their two years with a sense of fulfillment, not only in terms of their service work, but also the personal growth and development fostered by their two years abroad and connections to their homes near and far.
For more information, please visit the Peace Corps Community Archive website. To use the collections or make a donation, please contact the AU Archives at archives [at] american.edu.