It was in the Peace Corps that I began to realize what a career in public service would entail. Working in Fiji as a business adviser with a local school, I assisted my community by designing and implementing income-generating projects which brought my school $20,000 in supplemental income. Seeing people empowered by these projects, I recognized how my skills combined with my motivation for development had a lasting impact on an individual, their family, and their community. After seeing the success of the projects, the men I worked with realized their own potential and created their own fishponds, beehives, and recycling projects. This in turn made the nights without electricity, the days in the sweltering sun and biting mosquitoes, and the weeks of meals consisting of starchy potato and dry bread absolutely worthwhile.
Through Peace Corps, I was able to bond with the people of Fiji in ways that would have never been possible through any other opportunity. In the majority of communities where volunteers serve world wide, Peace Corps will be the only time where local community members will have the chance to interact with an American on such an intimate level. Peace Corps is a unique opportunity to break down the every day stereotypes people around the world have about Americans. No, Steven Segal is not America’s favorite action move actor. No, people in America really don’t live like Charlie Sheen from Two and a Half Men. I was able to represent my unique experience as an East Indian American and, more broadly, represent how my community in America views the rest of the world; with empathy, love, and a need to understand through experience. It’s this ability to represent America in such a way that makes Peace Corps a truly unique experience.
People often ask me, “What was the best part of your Peace Corps experience?” Hand’s down, without a doubt, it was the relationships. The connections I made with my two host families, the time I spent with my neighbors, teachers at the school, students on the soccer team, men at the community convenience shop; these were the moments that really made my Peace Corps experience invaluable. These are relationships that I will carry with me long into the future. Being able to share stories about life in America and building friendships with my community through photographs of my family and friends was an amazing experience. To this very day, my neighbors still ask how my nephew, whom they have never met, is doing in school. They ask how my parents are doing and if I am married yet. I always tell them they’ll be the first to know once I get married, seeing as how they’ve had a keen interest in this topic since we first met! Peace Corps redefined my meaning of extended family. I would recommend this experience to anyone else who is interested in doing the same.
Pravin Mallavaram served in the Republic of Fiji from 2005 to 2008. He is currently an MPA student within the Global Leadership specialization.
Through Master’s International, students can do Peace Corps and get their Master’s at the same time. PSU has a Master’s International Program through the MPA degree. More information can be found at www.peacecorps.gov/gradschool