Recently, we had an inspection of our Peace Corps Fellows/USA program by Peace Corps headquarters in Washington DC. Julie Driver, the Peace Corps Fellows USA program director, got to look at the various aspects of the program here and had a lot of positive things to say. Each university structures their Fellows program in their own way so Peace Corps needs to conduct evaluations from time to time to make sure that these diverse structures fit in with the goals of the central Fellows program. I got to play a big role in the day as coordinator of the SPEA Fellows. Despite the fact it was an ‘inspection,’ the day actually turned out to be quite fun and gave us a chance to show how strong SPEA is with not only Peace Corps Fellows, but with Returned Peace Corps Volunteers in general.
The day began with an informal breakfast where Julie met all of the SPEA administrative stakeholders tied to the program. Besides illustrating the administration of the program, we got a chance to show how the Fellows program has benefited all of IU over the last few years. Since the Fellows program was started the number of RPCVs has greatly increased each year. Last year it reached a significant enough size that the RPCVs in SPEA started an official student organization, the IU RPCV Group. The goal of this group is to help RPCVs at IU and the greater Bloomington community network with each other and coordinate 3rd goal activities. Last year we were only getting our feet of the ground and seemed to be mostly a SPEA organization. But this year we have done a good job of making the organization more IU wide and have pulled active members from the different area studies, education, business, and law schools. The recruitment numbers of IU students entering Peace Corps have also skyrocketed up to 14th overall in the nation due to coordination with this organization and the Fellows. The Peace Corps Fellows have always been the core of this organization and the drivers of this growth. We also got to show Julie the IU RPCV Group’s plans to spearhead a campus-wide Peace Corps Week from February 25 to March 2. This purely 3rd goal activity is meant to teach Americans about the countries that we served in.
Julie then went on a site visit to city hall where several of our Fellows have internships in various offices. She met with Fellows, their supervisors, and the Public Service Corps coordinator at their sites to gauge the work Fellows were doing. Afterwards, we had a Fellows-only lunch at a local pizzeria where anyone could vent their concerns if need be. However, the meeting was very positive with good, sincere answers to Julie’s evaluative questions. One thing the Fellows emphasized is that they did not like the idea that Fellows should be seen as somehow better or above the many other RPCVs at SPEA. With 29 RPCVs in the program there was no need to be devisive and the RPCV Group was a better shared vehicle for Peace Corps activities than a separate Fellows group.
After lunch Julie had another site visit with Fellows working at a local non-profit. She then had some more time with SPEA administrators and met with the IU campus recruiter to discuss some possible new programs at IU and how the Fellows tied into overall recruitment. After this long exhausting day, we took Julie out to dinner at the new Ethiopian restaurant in Bloomington with the general IU RPCV population. It brought us back to our Peace Corps days as the restaurant served the food in traditional Ethiopian fashion, meaning we ate with our hands. The meat or vegetables are prepared as a thick stew and then is poured onto large, flat pieces of sour tasting bread. One tears off strips of the bread and then scoops up portions of the spicy stew for an absolutely delicious meal. The sour bread compliments the spices and fills you up rather quickly. But the best part is that after the stew is gone, the bread that sat beneath it has spent all night soaking up the juices of the stew and is the best part of the meal. Everyone had a great time eating, talking, and sharing Peace Corps stories. Overall, this turned out to be one of the most positive and fun inspections that I’ve ever had.