Two years ago after I completed my Bachelors of Science in Biology, I went abroad with a group called International Student Volunteers to volunteer in Ecuador. Volunteering abroad was by far one of the best, most rewarding experiences I have ever had. And it gave me the push to do something I have always wanted to do – apply for the Peace Corps, and eventually Master’s International.
Master’s International is a program affiliated with the Peace Corps, and with hundreds of schools across the nation. Essentially it is like killing two birds with one stone; you go to school to complete your Master’s degree, and to the Peace Corps at the same time. Everything you do in the Peace Corps counts towards your Master’s degree, so usually you spend less time on campus than in an average Master’s program (the actual time spent taking classes varies from program to program).
In order to be designated a Master International student, you have to first be accepted into a graduate program affiliated with Master’s International, and then be nominated by the Peace Corps (a nomination is essentially a recommendation from the Peace Corps that you move on to the next phase of the application process).
These are both two separate processes, and must be done before you can be designated a Master’s International student.
Once I decided I wanted become a Master’s International student I went to the Peace Corps website, printed out the list of Master’s International affiliated schools, and got to work. Since there are so many schools affiliated with the program I researched each one that seemed interesting carefully; I wanted to make sure I chose the right one.
SPEA was one of the first schools that caught my eye (who doesn’t like the idea of getting two Master’s degrees with the addition of only one more semester?!); however, I must admit I was a bit apprehensive at first. Growing up on Long Island I’ve become accustomed to have the beach at my footsteps, and now I was going to relocate to an area over 800 miles from the coast? One visit to SPEA, and all of my hesitations disappeared; not only did I fall in love with the program, but I fell in love with Bloomington, and the strong sense of community I felt here.
Since I am completing a dual degree with only two years at school, it was important that early on that I was very proactive about my studies. That meant meeting with as many professors as possible, going to seminars, and talking to different people in an attempt to figure out what exactly I wanted my concentration to be in. Deciding this early on was crucial in structuring my second semester of classes because, all of the courses taken in my second semester need to be courses that will most benefit my Peace Corps Service.
It is also good to be proactive about finding a faculty member to act as a research adviser. This initially involves looking at what different professors are interested in, and seeing what grabs your attention. Then once at SPEA you can contact those professors to discuss your mutual interests. With the help of an adviser you will design a research project that will be carried out during your Peace Corps Service. This research project will take the place of the required internship component of your degree program at SPEA.
I currently am in the process of shopping for a research adviser. Since my concentration is Sustainability and Sustainable Development my research project will stay within that theme, focusing on Food Sustainability. While it is good to get a rough idea of what you want to do your research on, it is difficult to formulate the specifics of your project until you know where you will be stationed; a project in the heart of the Amazon will be different from a project in a small town.
At times being a Master’s International student can be a bit stressful, overwhelming, and feel like a waiting game (I am currently waiting to find out my Peace Corps placement which can take up to a few months); it definitely is a rigorous program. SPEA tests you because they know you can do it. They want to make you into the best version of “you” that you can be. When all is said and done I hope to come out of SPEA, and the Peace Corps with tools to help create environmental education programs in inner cities focusing on greening these communities, and making them more sustainable.