Today’s the day 20 years ago that two score optimistic & good-willed Americans gathered at the 4-H Center in Chevy Chase, Maryland, to begin the most excellent adventure I know, a blend of humanitarian endeavor, mutual group support, and self-reliance in the face of a great unknown.
We were to spend the next 27 months as Peace Corps Volunteers in Malawi, contributing to that country’s education objectives as teachers of English, Math, Science, History, Music, The Bible… Whatever came our way. At the same time, equally, we were contributing to our personal growth, our burgeoning confidence, our ideals and goals we held as emerging citizens of the world.
For me the adventure was a quest to put something exotic into my writing, an admission that the years of scribbling I’d already spent on journals and stories and half-baked novels lacked the insights of worldliness. It was the first time I’d acknowledged to a group of strangers that I considered myself “a writer”. I’m still grateful nobody laughed.
I don’t pretend to have achieved worldliness in the intervening years. But the Peace Corps experience has defined my growth as a writer. From Paul Theroux attending our swearing in, to meeting the trusted writing confidantes I’ve maintained since (these include notorious crime writer Preston Lang), to the broader network of Peace Corps Writers who now review, share, and promote our mutual literary efforts—Peace Corps, more than anything else, has enabled me to push my limits as a novelist.
The adventure stays with me, twenty years later, through the friendships forged and maintained, the stories written (shelved or published), and the outlook I bring to almost everything I do—whether guiding public engagement for the State Department or raising my sons with global empathy.
Peace Corps at 20. Thank you, friends. What has the experience meant to you?