Panelists discuss role of Peace Corps in international diplomacy

Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet, Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-Calif.), U.S. State Department Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Public Affairs Karen Richardson and returned Peace Corps volunteer Ravi Shah met Friday in the Sol Price School of Public Policy to discuss how serving in the Peace Corps facilitates international diplomacy.

The event was part of the “State of the Union: Cabinet in Your Community” tour, where Cabinet officials have had the opportunity to discuss issues of national importance following President Obama’s State of the Union address. The event also followed a Peace Corps announcement in October 2015 of a 40-year record high in application numbers. California ranked as the top Peace Corps volunteer state in 2015.

The event began with Richardson highlighting the rise of terrorism, which she said has led many Americans to question whether or not the United States should continue getting involved in foreign affairs.

Richardson responded to this notion by alluding to Secretary of State John Kerry’s address to the University of Virginia, where he stated that “there is nothing foreign about foreign affairs.” With this quote, she opened the discussion so other participants could give their opinion regarding the role of the Peace Corps in initiating international conversation.

Hessler-Radelet said the United States needs more global-minded citizens as the world is increasingly connected.

“Our security and economy is inextricably connected to that of other countries, and we need people that understand the world,” Hassler-Radelet said.

She also stressed how a global perspective is essential for business within the United States.

“In addition, our country is becoming increasingly multicultural. From recent research, I have uncovered, I have learned that organizations that solicit ideas from other cultures are stronger,” she said.

As a volunteer in Ukraine, Ravi Shah explained how the Peace Corps influenced his understanding of the world.

“Without [the] Peace Corps, without having gone to Crimea or Ukraine, we would have less of a perspective of what is going on there,” Shah said.

Hessler-Radelet explained the importance of a multicultural understanding by revealing an untold story of Peace Corps volunteers in West Africa during the 2014 Ebola epidemic. While they had to be removed from their communities due to safety precautions, many continued working closely with the Center for Disease Control. This was helpful because of their rich understanding of West African communities.

“[The CDC] often tells us they could not have done their work without our staff,” Hessler- Radelet said.

The discussion also focused on the intangible benefits of volunteering with the Peace Corps.

“You come away with a multicultural understanding, you mature, you grow,” Shah stated.

Sam Moore, a graduate student studying public policy, spoke about how his Peace Corps experience helped in his development.

“You learn about yourself. You become comfortable with yourself and you learn how strong you really are,” Moore stated.

Jared Thomas, a graduate student studying public administration, explained why he chose to attend the event.

“I wanted to learn about international diplomacy and the international conversation,” he said. “I understand that to be a leader, you need to understand the international conversation.”