What Do We Know About RPCVs?

Prospective Peace Corps volunteers often are quizzed by family or friends, “Aren’t you afraid you’re delaying the start of your career?”

And even returned volunteers find themselves wondering, “What impact did Peace Corps service have?”

The Peace Corps has done three major studies of RPCVs in its 47-year history, though only one received much press coverage. Now RPCV Andrew Czernek (Congo/Zaire, 1973-75) of Mukilteo, WA has detailed the three studies and outlined another 25 other studies or returned volunteers in a pair of Google Knowledge Base articles:

Peace Corps Volunteers

Peace Corps Impact

The first of the two articles on volunteers details the results of the 1969 Louis Harris study; the 1977 E.A. Winslow study; and the December 1996 study done with graduate student Juanita Graul, who is also an RPCV (Jamaica, 1992-94). Only the first Harris study received must publicity. The second knowledge base article summarizes many of the comments written by RPCVs in response to the 1996 study.

The December, 1996 study was the most complete of the three, delving into differences between each decade of volunteers in the period from 1961 to 1993. It also covered the most volunteers, with responses from 1,253 RPCVs. And it covered the widest range of topics, from marital status to education, income and even safety issues during service.

“I had come out of Jamaica in 1994. I was an adult volunteer, celebrating my 50^th birthday while I was in Jamaica. My particular concern was the crime rate and whether it was increasing or not,” says Juanita Graul. As a result, she worked with the Peace Corps to do the study as part of her thesis at Antioch University.

On how he came to write the articles for the Google Knowledge Base, Czernek says, “I’d originally dug up the research for the Google Answers service but then a server crash deleted it. Google established the Knowledge Base pages a month ago, so it was a chance to update and expand the information.”

The volunteer base has traditionally been more than 90% people in their twenties. Among its many results, the 1996 study found that more than half had earned an advanced degree since returning home – and another 10% were working on an advanced degree. But it also found that a high percentage were single (24%), with another 10% divorced or separated.

“If any SEAPAX members are aware of post-2000 studies of volunteers, I’d like to add them to the list of studies in the Google Knowledge Base,” says Czernek.