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Preparing for the Peace Corps

Posted: Thursday, May 29th, 2008

Marion Adams enjoys a cup of coffee Tuesday in Watsonville as she speaks about her two year engagement with the Peace Corps in Moldova which begins in June.

In the space of about a decade, Marion Adams has lived a lifetime of adventures, and on June 7, she’ll be embarking on the adventure of a lifetime.

The 63-year-old will be leaving for a two-year stint with the Peace Corps in Moldova, a tiny country nestled between Romania and Ukraine near the Black Sea.

For more than a decade, Adams has taught English abroad — she spent seven years in Korea and three in Slovakia.

She’s also travelled the globe from Russia to Thailand, and her passport is crammed with stamps from 17 different countries, most of which she’s collected since she was 50.

She has the outgoing, affable attitude of the consummate world traveller, and her eyes sparkle when she speaks about her past journeys — she’s eaten dog in Korea: “Of course I did. That’s what you do when you’re there” — and once had to sell her camera to pay her exit fee from Cambodia.

She came back to the U.S. in May 2006, but like many people permanently bitten by the travel bug, she began to wonder what adventure was around the next corner.

She spent time in upstate New York where she grew up, helping flood victims there clean up their houses. She later moved to Watsonville, where she worked at Dorothy’s Place, a soup kitchen and women’s shelter in Salinas.

This volunteer work turned her toward the Peace Corps. She decided her skills as an English teacher were the perfect key to the next phase in her life.

After she went through the arduous application process — the Peace Corps asks its applicants to account for the past 10 years — she was assigned to Eastern Europe.

Adams’ new position comes on the heels of a recent effort by the Peace Corps to recruit people over 50. A wide margin of Peace Corps volunteers are recent college graduates in their 20s, but organizers wanted to increase the numbers of older volunteers.

“One of the goals (of the Peace Corps) is to increase understanding of Americans and what Americans are like on a person-to-person level,” said Nathan Sargent, public affairs specialist with the Peace Corps San Francisco Regional office. “To do that, we need a diverse group of people.”

By encouraging people over 50 to apply, the Peace Corps is tapping into the higher maturity levels, skill sets and rich life life experiences they typically bring, Sargent said.

“It’s the skills and the maturity, but also the respect they get from people overseas,” he said. “They find their age is an advantage.”

David Banks, 66, and his wife Wendy, 65, will be going to Tanzania in June to teach health education. It’s a position that seems custom made for them — he’s a retired pharmacist, and she spent her career as a teacher.

“We’re quite excited,” she said. “It’s halfway around the world. We couldn’t have gotten further away from California.”

Banks and her husband will travel to Dar es Salaam for three months of language and cultural training. They will stay with a family, who will help get them settled in the country.

The effort to recruit older people began last summer, and already their ranks within the Peace Corps are swelling — six percent of current volunteers are over 50, up from five percent last year. They’re aiming for a two-year goal of 15 percent.

While abroad, Adams says she misses the “real” ocean of California, and calls herself a “Santa Cruz kind of a person.” She says she’s strongly considering settling here when she returns.

For now, however, she’s focusing on her departure.

“I like meeting different people and seeing new places,” she said. “Being an English teacher allows me to do that — to really see a country, not like a two-week vacation.”


For information on the Peace Crops, visit www.peacecorps.gov.


*Photo by Tarmo Hannula*

(Published in 5/29/08 edition)

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