Kelly Sullivan/The AS Review

For more than 200,000 Americans, the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps meant more than just a reason to honor one of the U.S. government’s most globally recognizable programs. It was also a time to reflect on one of the most unique experiences of their lives and give words of encouragement to the next generation of volunteers.

In 2011, Western ranked third in the Peace Corps top colleges list for medium-sized colleges and universities. The list ranks schools based on the number of volunteers each produced during the previous year.

To celebrate the anniversary, a panel of seven current and retired Western staff and faculty discussed their Peace Corps service in a completely packed Viking Union 552 on March 3. Their experiences included agricultural development in Pakistan, teaching English in Thailand and organizing women’s health and business education programs in Africa.

As different as each volunteer’s experience was, everyone agreed that their service in the Peace Corps was a significant period in their lives.

Edwin Love, an assistant professor of finance and marketing, worked in small business development and health education on the Ivory Coast from 1997 to 1999.

“It was the best two years of my life up to that point,” Love said. “I met some of the most important people of my life during that time.”

He decided to join the Peace Corps after realizing that he was getting more satisfaction from the volunteer work he was doing in his spare time than from making a living by running a chain of coffee houses.

Love said that although it was a “tremendously wonderful experience,” part of the adventure of volunteering was the challenges it required him to face. “You really have to pull from yourself the things that you need to survive,” he said.

Brooke Love, an assistant professor at Huxley College of the Environment, served in Mali in west Africa from 1998 to 2000. She said the Peace Corps mission fits well with the mission and goals of Western.

“Western has this sense of being engaged with the world and service. Peace Corps does both,” she said.

Her biggest challenge was adapting to a foreign culture where she felt like a stranger, she said. It took a year before she could hold a conversation in Fulani, the language in the area she served. She said that through the process she learned patience and gained more self-confidence.

Beth Parker, a project coordinator for the anti-poverty program Volunteers in Service to America, taught English in Mauritania, a country in northwest Africa, from 2005 to 2007. She said using the support of other nearby volunteers and other Peace Corps members can be very helpful during your service.

Western’s Peace Corps Representative Sylvia Graham served in Madagascar from 2000 to 2002. She worked on agricultural development and taught environmental education in elementary schools. She said that her time spent overseas allowed her to develop meaningful relationships with people from other cultures.

Eight years later she still keeps in touch with the people she met during her time in the Peace Corps. She said she has gone back twice to visit. She added that it is very rewarding to know she made a difference in people’s lives.

Susan Anderson, a counselor in Western’s Career Services Center, served in the Lesotho a landlocked nation within the borders of South Africa, from 1977 to 1981. Afterward, she continued in the Peace Corps as a recruiter. She said that anyone interested in volunteering should talk to as many current and former volunteers as possible.

“I think the world is better for having 50 years of Peace Corps. I think our country is better for having 50 years of Peace Corps,” Anderson said. “We didn’t save the world, but we did our part. We tried.”