Get to know Ryan Jeter, the Peace Corps Recruiter at Rutgers University.
Ryan is a current graduate student in Rutgers’ Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy. Originally from Tampa, Florida, Ryan attended Howard University before joining the Peace Corps in 2015. He served in Costa Rica as a TEFL volunteer and lived in the small town of Guacimo in the eastern providence of Limon. He worked in a night school for adults and a traditional high school during his time in Costa Rica. Here he shares his experiences with the Peace Corps.
What made you want to help others?
I had the fortune of meeting a Peace Corps volunteer in South Africa when I was young. She grinned and spoke with pride while she described her role and time in the Peace Corps. I never forgot that. After doing more research on the history and mission of the Peace Corps, I knew it was something I would benefit from doing. I didn’t necessarily see it as a helping others honestly. In my mind, I saw it as an opportunity to work with others while building important skills in a foreign country.
You’re a Peace Corps recruiter. Is there a myth about the Peace Corps that you find yourself constantly dispelling when talking with potential recruits?
People tend to think that Peace Corps volunteers are monolithic and have the same background, age, and ethnicity. I find myself constantly informing people that you are never too old to join the Peace Corps and that we are not all hippies. We come from every state and we have different hairstyles, political beliefs, body types, and ages.
Is there anyone you meet that you think may not be a good fit for the Peace Corps?
No, not at all. Peace Corps is a journey and I don’t believe that anyone enters that journey with all the skills one may need to be the “perfect volunteer.” The journey enables us to grow and mature. Therefore, I believe that everyone has the potential to be an incredible Peace Corps volunteer.
How do you handle people who seem like they might just want to go the beach for a few years?
Traveling is definitely one of the benefits that come with service. With that said, there are other ways to travel if that is what you are after. A volunteer must be present in their community and work with the people to be effective. The volunteers that take up residence on the beach will eventually realize they are missing out and are not experiencing the fulfillment that comes with helping your community with the issues they are facing and being part of the solution.
What about your personal life while you’re away? Did you have breaks to go home or even just breaks throughout the work day to make calls or write emails?
Joining the Peace Corps can definitely change your social life. Each volunteer will have a different experience and much of that depends on your country of service and a volunteer’s personality. I was able to return home to the U.S. to visit friends on numerous occasions. Technology also helped me stay in constant communication with friends and family. I had a phone plan in my country of service and so I was able to call and Facetime whenever I wanted. My schedule definitely allowed me to have time throughout the day to message and speak with my loved ones. But, despite all of the technology at my fingertips, I enjoyed the hand-written letters I received the most.
What would you say was the most satisfying moment of your service?
I held an English class in my community. For 12 weeks, I worked with 25 Costa Rican adults and helped them learn basic English words and phrases. My class consisted of men and women that were curious and wanted to learn. They had different reasons for their desire to learn. Some wanted to be able to understand the words to their favorite pop songs, some knew it would further their career, others simply wanted to help their children with their English homework. When you join the Peace Corps, many people expect to win a Nobel Peace Prize for their work. I never won that award but I was able to see the way in which education helped my adult students feel more confident and how happy it made them. From there, they were able to help their children learn more and the foundation for change was installed. They were so grateful for my help and I felt part of something bigger than me.
What would you say was one of the hardest parts of your service?
I served in Costa Rica from 2015-2017. If you remember, there were several tragic events that occurred in the U.S. during that time. I honestly feel that being a “gringo” in a foreign land during those times caused me to re-examine my identity as an American, as well as a Black American. At first, I missed the sense of community I had stateside. However, my fellow Peace Corps volunteers proved to be an amazing support system and I loved seeing their solidarity throughout my service.
Can people do more than one Peace Corps program?
Definitely! I plan on doing it again and I know several other people that are currently serving for the third and fourth time.
Do people ever leave before their term is up?
It happens but I would say it is not the norm. Peace Corps takes health, safety, and security seriously. If a volunteer feels as though they need to leave, Peace Corps will respect their wishes and the opportunity to return to the United States will be presented.
What are some of the top reasons people leave, and are there countermeasures to prevent it?
I would say the majority of people that leave before they are able to complete their service do so for medical or family issues. Medical issues cannot always be prevented but I can assure you the Peace Corps Medical Office does everything they can to prevent the preventable. One countermeasure is to make sure you are doing everything you can to take care of yourself while on site. Exercise, eat healthy foods, and surround yourself with people that will help you when you need help.