A recent graduate at the Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work, Emmanuel Vega Arreola had been working with refugees and asylum seekers as part of his internship for his bachelor’s in social work when he decided he wanted to further expand his horizons. He also wanted to find a way to combine his two passions: service and traveling.
Vega Arreola decided to apply to The United States Peace Corps.
The Peace Corps, as stated on its website, is a “service opportunity for motivated changemakers to immerse themselves in a community abroad, working side by side with local leaders to tackle the most pressing challenges of our generation.” Launched in 1950s, the program’s goals are to help communities in interested countries gain new skills and training while improving cross cultural relationships and understanding.
“The Peace Corps is highly competitive and I felt out of this world when I heard that I had been accepted,” said Vega Arreola. “I had to prepare myself emotionally because I knew it would be a big challenge but I felt blessed as well.”
The Peace Corps received more than 17,000 applications last year for fewer than 4,000 positions.
In August, upon hearing that he was accepted to the program, Vega Arreola learned that he would be stationed in a rural village in Thailand, where he will be working as a Youth Development Volunteer. There, he will be able to apply many of the skills he learned in the classroom toward developing after school programs and enrichment programs for the local youth.
“My degree in social work ties directly into the role I will be playing during my time of service with the Peace Corps,” he said. “My education and career has taught me how to connect with individuals and groups to improve the quality of life. The experiences gained from my travels and the global emphasis at FIU has prepared me to be open-minded and celebrate diversity. Overall, I feel confident in embracing the challenges that lie ahead and I know I have the potential to be successful in overcoming them.”
The course that he is most grateful for having taken is Social Work Practices with Communities and Organizations, as it taught him how to go into a community and use macro social work skills to integrate and build professional relationships, gain trust and empower the people he works with.
In 2014, FIU launched the university’s Peace Corps Prep Program, one of only 25 in the country. FIU is consistently ranked a Top 10 Peace Corp volunteer-producing Hispanic-Serving Institutions. As of Sept. 30, 2017, the university has 23 alumni who are volunteers in 21 different posts.
A commitment to The Peace Corps is significant with three months of training in the host country followed by two full years of service at the host site. Often living in simple, rural conditions, it can be a difficult adjustment for many.
“The first thing I did to prepare was simply to tell myself that I will be okay — reassuring of my goals that I have and recognizing this as a unique opportunity. The language barrier makes me feel nervous. It has completely different linguistic roots but it is the first necessary step in connecting with the locals.”
Vega Arreola embarked on his journey to Thailand last month. Once settled, he intends to focus on community research in order to understand the community and their needs. He wants to develop programs that will have an exponential life to them so that benefits go beyond his time there.
“I look forward to making a difference in the lives of the youth there, working together to expand one another’s minds so that we may have meaningful and long-term growth.”