Prepping for 'the toughest job'

University’s Peace Corps Prep program helps students get selected for service

With a double major in international studies and Chinese studies, Lizzie Utset would have had no trouble getting accepted into the Peace Corps — 20 or 30 years ago. But competition today is keen to get what the Peace Corps has called “the toughest job you’ll ever love.” Only one in three Peace Corps applicants is selected for service.

But Utset, a 2017 Carolina graduate, had a leg up on the competition. She completed USC’s Peace Corps Prep program, earning a certificate for coursework and training that prepared her for the cultural nuances and rigors of life abroad.

“Participating in the Peace Corps Prep program was extremely helpful during my Peace Corps application process in so many ways,” Utset says. “For lack of a better and slightly less dramatic word, the Peace Corps application process is grueling: from spending hours writing and rewriting and revising the same responses, to answering incredibly nuanced questions with a stoic interviewer for two hours, to spending months going to more medical appointments than I have ever had in my life.

“At first I wasn't sure if it was worth it. But after getting my acceptance and having an awesome community to connect with and rely on, I realized that the hard work paid off.” Utset is now a Peace Corps volunteer, teaching in Rongchang, China.

Sixty-two Carolina students currently are enrolled in the Peace Corps Prep program with 10 more in the application process. The program began two years ago as a way to help USC students better compete in the Peace Corps application process.

“Our certificate program shows the Peace Corps that our students have taken the right classwork and have engaged in the right experiences to prepare them for service abroad,” says Chrissie Faupel, assistant director of undergraduate advising in the Study Abroad office and a former Peace Corps volunteer in Senegal.

Earning a Peace Corps Prep certificate doesn’t add time to earning a degree, Faupel says. Rather, it helps students choose electives with international perspectives and engage in hands-on learning opportunities in the volunteer sector they’re interested in, such as education or economic development.

Grace Lee, a senior majoring in marketing and human resources management and minoring in hospitality, retail and tourism management, says Peace Corps service is an alluring option for college students because it combines travel and humanitarian service.

“We want something bigger than just a job right away,” says Lee, a peer adviser in the Peace Corps Prep program who has traveled in Europe, South Korea and the Philippines. “The sense of adventure is appealing to young students — we still want to have fun.”

Faupel says she hears some students talk about Peace Corps service as a resume booster, “which is funny to me because there are so many things that are easier to do that can build your resume. Peace Corps service can be hard! When that Peace Corps van drops you off in your village, then drives away, it can be a terrifying experience.”

Still, a Peace Corps experience is often life changing and always memorable, she says. And for Carolina students, getting selected for service is a less daunting prospect, thanks to the university’s Peace Corps Prep program.

Share this Story! Let friends in your social network know what you are reading about