Peace Corps volunteer Kittie Helmick ’15, who is teaching English in the South African village Kwazulu-Natal, spoke to students this week about the process of joining the Peace Corps.
Helmick is 9 months into a 27-month tour in South Africa, and she said she is finally beginning to reap the rewards of her work.
“It took us from January to March to learn how to communicate with each other,” Helmick said.
Now her students are able to begin simple projects in English. They just finished making their own personal American calendars.
Helmick said the progress she is seeing extremely rewarding.
“You are primarily working with local people and helping them develop their resources,” Helmick said.
Career Services organized Helmick’s visit to create an opportunity for students to learn about the Peace Corps, the advantage of participating in the program, and tips for applying.
Helmick laid out the application process for interested students. She explained that, while acceptance is competitive, Hillsdale students are great candidates. The Peace Corps primarily searches for certain kinds of people and doesn’t require prior experience.
“They are mainly looking for a type of person who is resourceful, enjoys learning, is ready to pick up a new language, and enjoys a new culture,” Helmick said.
Helmick assured interested students that the organization “gives you the tools to prosper, but it is up to you to use them.”
Volunteers can expect around six months of training, including language training, safety training, and job specific training, before they begin to engage in their work.
She also said the Peace Corps, perhaps due to criticism in the past few years, has cracked down on their safety procedures.
“Peace Corps puts a ton of emphasis on security. They have a dedicated security team who are on call,” Helmick said. “If you report an incident they take it very seriously. They have really doubled down efforts on dealing with incidents.”
Helmick responded to some student questions about the economics of the service with the Peace Corps, explaining that the greatest financial burden was at the front end. Volunteers have to pay for most of their own vaccines and medical preparations; however, once training begins, they are provided a place to live, a stipend for living expenses, and the organization also sets aside a fixed sum every month that volunteers receive upon leaving the program. This gives them time to acclimate to life in America while searching for a job.
Freshman Sebrena Geier has been interested in the Peace Corps since elementary school and said Helmick’s talk was helpful in her discernment.
“I’m glad that she answered a lot of the financial questions and made herself very open to contact in the future,” Geier said. “It was also interesting to hear what her challenges have been and how the Peace Corps has addressed them.”
Senior Suzanne deTar decided to attend the presentation because she will be embarking on her own tour with the Peace Corps this June to Sierra Leone in West Africa, where she will teach general science in secondary schools.
“I loved hearing Helmick speak because I honestly have no idea what I am getting into,” she said. Hearing that she also didn’t, but that she has adjusted and is doing well and has figured out her curriculum helped me to chill out a little bit.”