With the founding of the Shriver Center 23 years ago, the Peaceworker Program was established to support Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) with service-learning fellowships. Every year, six to ten RPCVs are admitted to this highly competitive fellowship which integrates graduate study, community service leadership and ethical reflection.
Housed at the foot of Erickson Field in the Public Policy building, the Peaceworker Program encourages RPCVs to analyze and resolve civic issues relevant to Baltimore. With twelve RPCVs currently studying at UMBC, the program is confident that it is stronger than ever to address these problems.
Before the Chick-Fil-A lunch rush and with the early autumn breeze at our backs, I was able to sit down with Applied Sociology major and graduate student, Becky Morrison. With our sweaters clutched to our chests, she shared her memories of the Peace Corps, readjusting to American culture, and why she came to UMBC.
After studying Sociology at Notre Dame de Namur, the Philly native dove into international service by volunteering in Peace Corps China as a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) volunteer.
One of the memories Morrison shared was about her 63-year old Chinese teacher. “We were practicing Chinese and got into this deep discussion about life, politics and religion,” Morrison started. “My mom always told me never to talk about that, but at the end of the conversation my teacher looked at me and said, ‘Becky, you and I, although from different countries, we are very much the same,’ and I was just like ‘yes! This is what I came to Peace Corps for,’” Morrison concluded.
While her time in the Peace Corps brimmed with positive memories, Morrison did, like many RPCVs, find it difficult to adjust back to American life. “You’re facing culture shock within your own country, which is strange but understandable,” Morrison stated.
“At first, it was shocking, but I had solid support from my fellow Peace Corps volunteers, not only the people who served in my countries, but also those from other countries,” Morrison explained. “I found a solid group of RPCV friends who served all over the world. That RPCV community is available in every city, so it helped for a soft adjustment once I was home.”
After working for the New York Peace Corps office, Morrison decided to pursue higher education in Applied Sociology and join UMBC’s Peace Corps Fellows Program. “When I researched it [UMBC’s Graduate School] more, I loved UMBC’s diversity on campus and the overall grit and greatness attitude of the school,” Morrison stated.
As a Graduate Student, Morrison’s days are filled with classes, resume review and lunch with friends. However, as a Peaceworker, her part-time job working as the Graduate Coordinator for Service and Volunteerism and weekly ethical reflections with other fellows keep her busy.
“In the ethical reflections, you speak from your various disciplines about certain civic issues. I thought this aspect of the program was really unique and ultimately persuaded me to come to UMBC,” Morrison explained.
“I feel like Peaceworker, and UMBC in general, helped me find a culture focused on humanness,” Morrison explained. “Most of my experiences have followed that format, where you get to know the human you’re interacting with, not a file name. It has brought me into a great human-centric community,” Morrison reflected further.
For those wondering if international service is the career for them, Morrison suggested to test immersive service out first with shorter projects. Morrison also shared the Zen quote “leap and the net will appear,” something that she kept (and still keeps) in mind throughout her experiences.