Name: Joe Zucchini
Country of Service: Micronesia, 1990-92; Zambia 1997-99
Assignment: Education; Water/Sanitation
Recruitment Territory: Missouri
Why were you interested in serving?
I was at a crossroads in my life when it seemed everything before me prepared me for this kind of experience, and everything in front of me was like an open book, ready for a wild and wacky ride in some foreign land. At 37 years old, I had always been into volunteering, yet it seemed there was much more I could do, especially outside the boundaries of my own country, of which I had never left before serving. I was ready and ripe for all that a Peace Corps experience could offer and hopeful that I could make some difference in the lives of those I would touch, who then would no doubt touch me as well. And Peace Corps was the perfect medicine for me at the time, for me to test my boundaries, and grow in ways that were only possible with this kind of experience.
What did you enjoy most about your country of service?
On my tiny little island of Pohnpei, in Micronesia, there was this sweet sense of community where everyone seemed intimately connected with each other and to the whole. I often remember wondering where everyone was and what everyone in my village was doing when it was quiet because whatever happened always happened with almost 100 percent participation. I miss being “one of them”.
In Zambia, in southern Africa, it was the heart and soul of the people that fed me and sustained me in ways that are hard to describe unless you live among them. Despite all they didn’t possess, there was this richness of spirit that was always ready to break out into song and dance and bring me along as their resident “Muzungu” or white man. There is a saying, “You go to Africa to see the animals and come back having met the people”.
What were some of the greatest benefits of serving?
Before I left for Peace Corps the first time, I was a bit of a personal growth junkie. I had gone to so many workshops that I started facilitating them on my own and became a seminar leader. And yet, the adjustments, challenges and ways you have to adapt as a Peace Corps volunteer cannot be predicted or prepared for. I was forced to yield to my circumstances, and even though I always felt safe and supported by Peace Corps, there was this breaking down of who I was, what I needed and all of my routines and comforts. Fortunately, this process only lasted for a few months and then I found myself immersed in the people and culture around me. Since then, as I travel to different countries, that kind of adjustment seems less and less, as if the experience created some sort of inherent ability to cope to the challenges around me. I remember a second-year volunteer and mentor advising us that the Peace Corps won’t change you but will stretch you, in a good way of course.
Why should someone apply to serve?
We are giving our volunteers the opportunity to be of service in a way that is unique and customized to who they are, their talents and gifts and their potential – under the support of Peace Corps and at the request of the countries in which volunteers serve. At the end of the day, at the end of their two years and at the end of their lives, they will look back and see that this was the most rewarding, challenging, enriching, amazing, and growth- inspiring experience of their life.
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