What Some College Students Are Looking for in RPCV Talks

Wednesday March 9, 2016

Q&A with Jesi Liu

Jesi Liu is a sophomore at UC Berkeley from Detroit, Michigan, and she is co-coordinator of the student-run DeCal Peace Corps class. She is double-majoring in gender and women’s studies and rhetoric. She hopes to pursue law after volunteering in the Peace Corps. Jesi has been the key contact for the Global Presenters program to bring RPCVs to speak regularly to this class.

Q: How did you come to be co-coordinator of the DeCal Peace Corps class?

A:  I took the class Freshman year. The facilitators of the class stepped down at the end of semester last spring and asked if there was anyone in the class interested in taking over. I asked my friend Hannah Berrs to co-facilitate with me. We love it and plan on staying on as the facilitators through graduation. We are learning so much and enjoy getting to know the speakers, especially the ones we’ve brought back multiple times.

Q: Do you know how the class came to exist?

A: I’m not sure of the exact history, but I do know that we had an RPCV who took the DeCal in 2007 who actually came back to present! So the class has been around for almost 10 years, at the least.

Q: What do you look for in the RPCVs who will speak to the class?

A: We ask the students in the class who they want to hear from and we consider who our past speakers were. We especially like relatively recent volunteers to speak, and we like speakers representing a variety of countries. We try our best to incorporate speakers from different backgrounds to get a broad range of experiences (people of color, of diverse ethnicity and sexual orientation, etc.), and learn about how their background has affected their experience. It’s helpful for the students to be able to relate to who is in front of them and see them in their shoes one day.

Some of our students are already in the Peace Corps application process while others are toying with the idea of Peace Corps for the future. The talk does not need to be positive or upbeat. In fact, we find the students have an interesting response and discourse when the RPCV didn’t have a completely positive experience.

Q: What kinds of traits in RPCV speakers are helpful to your class members?

A: We all really love it when the RPCVs bring tactile things in from their experience. It’s also so inspirational when we see their faces light up – when their faces are completely different when they are talking about their experience from when they first walked into the room. They come to speak not for the purpose of promoting Peace Corps but for just sharing a life-changing experience.

Q: This semester you have requested having one RPCV speak who served in the Peace Corps while he or she was in retirement. This seemed surprising. Can you talk a bit about what was behind this request?

A: Like I said, some students are already in the application process while others are reflecting on Peace Corps. For the latter group of students, they recognize their interest in being abroad, but it might not be for them at this period of their life because they want to go to medical school or graduate school first. By hearing from a volunteer who served in retirement, it opens the possibility to more than just a post-grad window. We can also see how specific work experience made their experience easier and more fulfilling. The students see that there’s more than a small window to go abroad and really make a difference in someone’s life.

Q: How big is the DeCal Peace Corps class?

A: The class is capped at 30 students. Last semester we had 27 students. This year we passed the cap with some on the wait list! Since this is a two-credit course, there is a strict attendance policy. If students miss more than two classes in a semester or if they miss writing weekly reflections more than twice, they won’t pass the course.

Q: What is the experience like for you being a class facilitator?

A: Making a curriculum is really interesting. It’s a challenge, being on the other side, engaging people who are my age. It helps me open up and makes me want to participate more in my other classes out of respect for the professor or facilitator. In that same way, we have laid down some basic rules for the students to encourage discussion. For example, students are not allowed to walk in and out of class when a presenter is speaking and no laptops are allowed. We send out a short bio of the speaker in advance and ask the students to put together some questions ahead of time to engage them more. So in the end there is always a nice Q&A session.

Q: What do you want RPCV speakers to know about when presenting at a DeCal class?

A: The presentations are not a lecture style. When these talks happen after 6 p.m. on a weekday, we encourage more of a conversation to engage the class and keep it casual for the speaker! The speakers should be ready for questions. We love honesty about Peace Corps experiences and don’t like seeing their experience through rose-colored glasses. It’s best when they are realistic and unbiased about all aspects of their Peace Corps experience. It also makes the great stories that much more awe-inspiring to hear.


By Betsy Aaron, Global Presenters Outreach Coordinator

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