When you are a Peace Corps Volunteer, you find yourself explaining your motivations pretty frequently. It is a fair question. Doing this requires a measure of sacrifice and a willingness to live with the compromise of putting distance between your friends and family in order to achieve friendship and kinship of a different sort.

Every volunteer must write two essays to even be considered for an interview with Peace Corps. One essay deals with a moment of cultural encounter. The other is essentially a statement of motivation.

Below is the motivation essay I turned into Peace Corps in April 2007, a week or so before I interviewed. My cultural encounter essay recounts a very racially charged moment I had in South Africa and I am reluctant to put it here but will share it on request.

Citizenship and public service are central to my interpretation of what it means to be an American. Thusly, the Peace Corps is emblematic of one of the greatest privileges that this nation affords its citizens: being able to choose to serve and to make a difference. In this way, volunteering for the Peace Corps is an expression of gratitude for the opportunities this nation afforded my parents, and by extension, me.

My parents are immigrant examples of the American dream. I grew up in the international community of student family housing at the University of Washington, where my parents were educated and attained advanced degrees largely through scholarships. Much of my childhood was spent living well below the poverty line, but the sense of optimism my parents felt and the sense of empowerment they had from knowing that institutions were investing in their potential is something that has left a lasting impression upon me.

Even the most driven and talented people require some help from outside influences who can encourage their growth by offering support, encouragement, assistance, and faith in them. Just as my parents received support from others, I realized that I could offer the same sort of benefit to others in my own way. This is central to my still developing life and career goals.

I was very fortunate to participate in a study abroad program to South Africa in Winter 2005. While there, I tutored high school children in Langa Township, helped out at an AIDS orphanage in Khayelitsha township, and volunteered with the Nonprofit organization Bicycling Empowerment Network (BEN) to put together a bicycle awareness event for township kids. In every encounter I was struck by the dedication of the people who were choosing to serve in incredibly challenging capacities. I was amazed and humbled by how eager they were to have me work alongside them. It is true that local opportunities for public service abound but with international service there is an added dimension that deepens and enriches the entire experience: the tacit understanding that humans are capable of transcending political borders to do good with each other and to find good in each other.

By volunteering for Peace Corps I hope that I will become a part of America’s greatest export: goodwill. I was given a good shot at life and I would like to use my position of relative privilege to go somewhere where such fortunes are far less common. I am a firm believer in the endurance of the human spirit but I also think that this spirit requires nurturing to achieve its full potential. I hope and I believe that I can offer encouragement, support, optimism, and goodwill in the corners of the world that require these things the most.

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