Ambassador Christopher Hill, Dean of the Josef Korbel School, began his long and industrious career serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Cameroon during the 1970s. The experience piqued his interested in Foreign Service, and he went on to serve as Ambassador to Poland, South Korea, Iraq, and Special Envoy to Kosovo, among other accomplishments.
Now, over 30 years later, Peace Corps Master’s International (MI) student Andy Knipe recently landed in Cameroon to start his own Peace Corps service, hoping to follow in the footsteps of the many volunteers before him. And right behind him, MI student Graham Button just learned he will also head to Cameroon in September 2012.
Knipe and Button will likely have a different experience from Hill, but their eagerness to the serve the people of Cameroon echoes his time there and lessons learned.
“When you love them, and they love you, you can move mountains,” said Hill, commenting on the relationships he built with the people in his village and the accomplishments that stemmed from those connections. Knipe, who arrived in Cameroon in July 2011, has already started to learn this lesson. His own advice to MI’s about to go into the field, like Button, echoes Hill’s.
“Keep a long time horizon, take stock of small victories, and don’t overlook the importance of personal connections,” said Knipe, in an email from his site in Cameroon.
Button will work in the youth development sector, and Knipe works on a bevy of projects, including working with GeoAid International, getting fair trade certification for a group of cocoa farmers, and assisting a local tontine, or credit union. Hill also worked with credit unions during his time in Cameroon.
Having distinct projects for its volunteers is one area where Hill sees Peace Corps has improved. While he moved around checking on credit unions, other volunteers had a harder time defining their roles, said Hill. Thirty years of technology improvements later, Peace Corps is also in better communication with its volunteers.
“I still get to talk to my family pretty frequently via Skype, and I also email a lot with my family, friends and DU colleagues. I have a cell phone too, which I use to collaborate with my colleagues here in Cameroon,” said Knipe. In contrast, Hill said he would venture miles to a post office once a week where he would receive letters from his family long after they had been written.
In another significant change, Hill had a Peace Corps issued motorcycle, which he “smashed to smithereens” a few times. Now, volunteers are barred from motorcycle use, not least because of all the accidents like Hill’s from the 1970s.
With a strong Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) community at the Josef Korbel School, MI students are able to get questions answered before they head out around the world. They also have the opportunity to put into practice the theory they have learned in the classroom.
“The [Josef] Korbel School helped me contextualize and dig deeper on the global issues I care most deeply about,” said Knipe. Hill also sees the importance of Peace Corps for students at the Josef Korbel School, noting that Peace Corps on someone’s resume still exemplifies to employers and graduate programs the type of hardworking student they are getting.
“I never thought the name brand of Peace Corps would be so untarnished this many years later,” said Hill.
While technology and communication have changed, the overall impacts of volunteers and the lessons they learn while working abroad have not. For MIs about to go into the field, they follow in a tradition of decades of volunteers before them.
“It should be interesting going to the same country as Ambassador Hill; hopefully he has some insights for me before I go,” said Button.
- Sarah Crozier, MA Candidate, International Development
Josef Korbel School of International Studies