Typically, the idea of joining the Peace Corps includes traveling to exotic foreign countries and dreams of teaching and working for the government. But for some, the reality is becoming ill multiple times with doctors unable to explain what is wrong.
That is exactly what happened to Daniel Drucker, a University of Miami graduate who served in the Peace Corps after graduating last May.
Drucker served in Cambodia teaching English. At first he enjoyed his work: he loved the people and he loved teaching. But his situation changed after a couple months of living there.
“Living there was tough,” Drucker said. “There were a lot of health concerns.”
Originally, he was bothered by his isolation from other volunteers as well as his minor sicknesses, but eventually Drucker became very ill.
Drucker began to worry about the illnesses that kept occurring. In certain areas of the country, he was seven hours away from the volunteer hospitals and would not be able to be treated immediately if anything were to go wrong.
The last time that Drucker got sick was the worst time.
“It was a big scare because my intestines got really inflamed,” he said. “Being at a Cambodian hospital wasn’t the most fun of my life.”
The doctors first believed that Drucker had appendicitis due to the inflammation in his intestines. This belief was ruled out after several tests. Because they never discovered exactly what was making Daniel ill, he was simply told that it was a bad bacterial infection and that they had never seen anything similar to it before.
Many students do, in fact, glamorize service in the Peace Corps and are unaware of the risks associated with living in isolated communities in developing nations.
“I just wanted to help people and do something that would be enjoyable, something different,” Drucker said.
Another benefit, he said, is the scholarships for graduate school volunteers can receive after joining the Peace Corps.
The Peace Corps Web site addresses safety issues in its frequently asked questions section.
“The Peace Corps devotes significant resources to providing volunteers with the training, support and information they need to stay healthy and safe,” the Web site reads. “Yet because volunteers serve worldwide, sometimes in very remote areas, health and safety risks are an inherent part of volunteer service. In the effort to ensure a productive, healthy and safe experience for volunteers, the Peace Corps reviews work and housing sites in advance, collaborates on project development with local communities and develops and tests plans for responding to emergencies.”
What many students interested in the Peace Corps do not realize is that they may be placed in countries that are not safe. But, not everyone who volunteers has a negative experience though.
Tim McNaught, who graduated magna cum laude in May of 2009 from UM, is currently serving in Azerbaijan.
“When I’m not drinking tea or eating the best pomegranates in the world, I work as a consultant for an economic think tank and as a project manager for a non-profit humanitarian health clinic,” McNaught said.
Students that may be worried about having an experience similar to Drucker’s may want to consider alternative programs after graduation such as Americorps or Teach for America, two service programs that are closer to home.
Overall, though, Drucker’s experience was not all negative. He is still inspired to help people in his community as result of his stay in Cambodia.
“I’m hoping to go and teach again,” he said. “Not in Cambodia, but somewhere else.”
Alanna Zunski may be contacted at email@example.com.
Peace Corps Information Session
Tuesday, November 2, 2010
2:00pm to 3:00pm
Toppel Career Center
University of Miami