Not all of Portland State’s new graduates are ready or willing to step off into the 40-hour work week waiting for them in corporate America. The options, however, can seem grim: running away to a foreign country to escape student loans, waiting tables or bartending indefinitely, or spare-changing at the downtown bus stops.
Fortunately, there are other – more realistic and rewarding – alternatives to delving knee-deep into your new career, and ironically, the Career Center on campus can help. In addition to counseling students in career paths and assisting with job placement, the Career Center provides students with information about long and short-term community service organizations, such as the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps.
The Peace Corps is an international volunteer program with “grassroots, person-to-person development work, cross-cultural exchange, and the promotion of world peace and friendship” at its heart. Assignments through the Peace Corps are generally two years in length and include education, business, environmental, agricultural, health and community development projects in Africa, Europe, the Mediterranean, Central and East Asia, the Pacific, Central and South America and the Caribbean.
Although volunteers are encouraged to alert the Peace Corps about any specific programs or countries they are interested in, the Corps is clear that volunteers are placed where they are needed most, so be flexible.
Other than the obvious benefits the Corps hopes its volunteers will receive through their experience, there are others that may be of interest. While in service with the Peace Corps, Stafford, Perkins, Federal Consolidation or Direct loans can be deferred. Private or other loans have their own terms and would have to be worked out with the lending establishment. Volunteers with Perkins loans, however, are eligible for a 15 percent cancellation of their outstanding Perkins debt for each year of service.
During the service period, volunteers receive a stipend that is designed to cover basic needs such as food, housing and transportation. This amount varies depending on placement location, but according to their Web site, volunteers “will receive an amount that allows you to live at the same level as the people you serve in your community.”
At the end of the service period, volunteers receive a “readjustment allowance” of $225 for each month of service, or $6,075 for the full two years. The Peace Corps’ Returned Volunteer Services also assists with career advice and placement once back in the United States.
The experience gained working in the Corps certainly cannot hurt one’s resume. According to the Peace Corps, “the overseas experience, cross-cultural knowledge and language skills that you gain as a volunteer are extremely valuable and highly sought by employers.”
The Peace Corps’ Web site, www.peacecorps.gov, can provide a vast amount of information on the programs available and how to get involved.
AmeriCorps, the domestic Peace Corps, is another option for new grads who want to stay a little closer to home. Most members are chosen to work with projects such as Habitat for Humanity, the American Red Cross and the Boys and Girls Clubs, often allowing volunteers to work full time in their own communities or surrounding areas.
In addition, AmeriCorps has two other distinct programs. VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America), is specifically aimed at serving communities under economic stress, and is “designed to increase the capability of people to improve the conditions of their own lives.” Volunteers in VISTA programs live in the communities in which they serve.
AmeriCorps’ NCCC (the National Civilian Community Corps) is reserved for volunteers ages 18 to 24, and requires a 10 month, full-time residential commitment. Members of the NCCC assist in areas of education, public safety, the environment and “other human needs.”
Like the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps volunteers can usually gain deferments on loans, are provided with a “modest living allowance” and can receive career assistance after completion of the program. AmeriCorps also offers an education award of $4,725 after one year of full-time service. More details can be found at www.americorps.org.
Brochures and other information on both organizations and other opportunities can be found at the Career Center in room 402 in the University Services Building or on their Web site: www.career.pdx.edu.