The Wasserman Center will be interviewing professionals working in public service to better understand how their careers have progressed. For our first “Careers in Public Service” interview, we met with the Peace Corps. Over 1,000 NYU alumni have gone on to serve in the Peace Corps.
We spoke with Helen Alesbury, a current graduate student at NYU’s Graduate School of Arts & Science, who also happens to be the NYU Peace Corps Recruiter. She served in the Peace Corps in El Salvador as a Health Volunteer. Below is an excerpt of our interview.
Wasserman Center (Wass): What has your career path looked like? How did you get started in this field?
Helen Alesbury (Helen): After graduating from George Washington University I applied and served as a Peace Corps Volunteer working for 2 years in rural El Salvador as a health volunteer. After that incredibly formative experience, I worked for Peace Corps Headquarters back in Washington, DC on their Safety & Security team. After working there for a little over a year, I headed to graduate school here at NYU to get my master’s degree in Anthropology, focusing on forensics and to eventually use my skills as a forensic anthropologist to help war torn countries like El Salvador. While working towards my master’s degree I am also a part time, on campus recruiter for the Peace Corps, based out of the Wasserman Career Center.
Wass: What skills/degrees are required to enter this field?
Helen: To become a Peace Corps Volunteer you must have a bachelor’s degree and relevant work or volunteer experience in the field you would like to serve in (Health, Education, Youth, Business, Environment, and agriculture). Beyond that, you need a passion for learning about and experiencing other cultures.
Wass: What personality traits/characteristics do employers in this field value?
Helen: Peace Corps is the ‘toughest job you’ll ever love’ so having patience and determination are vital! To be an effective volunteer you have to be dedicated to working with a community and using your skills as they are needed, not necessarily doing what you think needs to be done. It also helps to have a good sense of humor about yourself and your failures. It is all about learning how to celebrate the little victories in life.
Wass: What are the typical entry-level positions?
Helen: All Peace Corps positions are “entry level”, but possibly the least “entry-level” type job you could ever imagine. As a volunteer you will be called on to help manage projects, lead communities, liaise with organizations, and represent the United States abroad.
Wass: What is an average day/week on the job like?
Helen: As a volunteer there is no “typical” day. Peace Corps is exactly what you make of it. Some days you will be teaching in a classroom, the next you may be hiking up a mountain to see if there are natural springs you can tap for the community. You may even be working as a translator for a group of doctors or dentists another day. It is the least typical job you could ever imagine.
Wass: What is the typical work environment/culture like?
Helen: Peace Corps Volunteers serve in over 65 countries worldwide. Communities where Peace Corps Volunteers serve range from being in rural villages of a few hundred people, to larger urban areas of several thousand.
Wass: What are the opportunities for in-service training/professional development?
Helen: One of the best aspects of Peace Corps is the experience you get in all types of situations. Not only is it “on the job training”, but Peace Corps organizes 3 months of intensive training upon arrival in your country of service to instruct you in the local language, customs, and ways to manage projects. Throughout the 27 month service you also have ISTs (In-Service Trainings), that will help you develop your skills and workshop different situations you have during your service.
Wass: What are the opportunities for advancement within this field?
Helen: Peace Corps is a great first step to any career. Because it gives you experience in so many different ways, you can use it to your advantage. Volunteers go on to work in the State Department, the Foreign Service, international NGOs, MFA, and the UN to name a few. Not to mention the US Congress has several Returned Peace Corps Volunteers.
Wass: What’s the best networking strategy for this field?
Helen: Start by talking to me! I am NYU’s campus recruiter and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Coming to an info session is a great way to start getting information and figuring out if Peace Corps is right for you. Additionally, never shy away from an informational interview – it is the best way to get information and ask the questions you really need the answers to. Also make sure you come to career fairs and information sessions! They are the best tools you have to find what fits for you and to get as much information as possible.
Helen, NYU’s Peace Corps Recruiter, can be reached at email@example.com; she holds drop-in hours at NYU Wasserman every Wednesday, 12pm-2pm, or by appointment. The Peace Corps will be attending the upcoming NGO Forum on Friday, November 18th, in Washington, DC. NYU Wasserman will be providing a bus to and from DC, but you need to secure your seat ASAP! Find the details and RSVP information here.