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Skill booster: returned volunteers laud Peace Corps.

After Peace Corps volunteers complete two years working in developing countries, many look to State Department careers to stay in public service and indulge their interest in foreign cultures. Returned Peace Corps volunteers (RPCVs) have gained leadership, management and language skills, as well as resourcefulness and cultural adaptability, qualities useful in Civil Service or Foreign Service careers. Thus, hundreds of RPCVs work throughout the Department, from entry-level positions to the senior ranks.

For instance, Steve Murphy transitioned from being a high school English teacher with the Peace Corps on the island of Sao Nicolau in Cabo Verde to becoming an FSO. He has since served as a political officer in Sao Paulo, Kabul and Khartoum. While in the Peace Corps, he initiated a youth group on HIV/AIDS prevention, developing a passion for public health. As Murphy neared the end of his tour, Timor-Leste was gaining its independence and looking to help, he extended his Peace Corps tour for a third year to assist with Timor's reconstruction. His big accomplishment, he said, was establishing a district-wide health promotion program with Timorese nurses.

He's now working to incorporate global health in U.S. foreign policy as a policy advisor in the Secretary's Office of Global Health Diplomacy.

Murphy said his experience in the Peace Corps has been fundamental to his Department role: "As a Peace Corps volunteer, I gained both subject matter expertise and leadership skills that have contributed to my success as a global health policy advisor at State," he observed.

At the Department, Murphy said he's seen RPCVs excel at many of the 13 factors used to judge the competence of FSOs and has been impressed with RPCVs' "leadership, judgment and resourcefulness.

"There is no better training ground for the Foreign Service than the Peace Corps," he asserted, crediting it with helping develop project management and multitasking abilities he uses daily.

Ambassador Stephanie Sullivan, who taught English as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), credits the Peace Corps for helping her succeed at the Department. In her village in the DRC, she shared a house with several Congolese teachers. Through her experience, she said, she learned "to be a close observer before acting, developing patience for a different operational tempo and consciously choosing the most effective way to communicate a message, [that] has been enormously helpful to me as a diplomat."

She, too, extended her tour for a year, to serve as a Peace Corps volunteer leader and regional representative in the province of Katanga, before joining the Foreign Service.

Now she's the U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Congo, right across the Congo River from the DRC. In the role, she says she uses daily the language and cultural skills she honed in the Peace Corps.

A third RPCV, Ray Limon, is director of the Office of Civil Service Human Resource Management and a member of the Senior Executive Service. Before becoming a lawyer, he was a Peace Corps volunteer in Honduras, working as a health promoter with a focus on water and sanitation.

Honduras was Limon's first opportunity to travel outside the United States. On the flight to Honduras, he recalled, he could only bring 80 pounds of gear, so "I brought the basics: basketball, football, Frisbees, hacky sacks, volleyball, six-foot inflatable Gumby (long story), Sony Walkman, 60 mix tapes and an LSAT prep book.

"Interestingly enough, none of those items came back with me," he added.

Because community members inevitably look to PCVs as role models and leaders, they must be on their toes, monitoring their own behavior and attitudes, an experience Limon likens to that of senior Department leaders whose composure and self-awareness are keys to success. "Workforce success and resiliency starts with leaders and how they treat their people," he said.

Each of these RPCVs has mastered different skills and followed a unique professional path, but all say the life event that has most significantly affected their effectiveness at the Department was being in the Peace Corps.

They also all belong to the employee affinity group RPCVs@State. The group, which has more than 600 members, advocates for the recruitment and retention of RPCVs and builds an RPCV community through career development and community service.

RPCVs@State recently welcomed 30 newly returned volunteers to visit the Department for "Take an RPCV to Work Day." The event included panel discussions on the Foreign Service and Civil Service and a speed networking event. RPCVs from across the Department provided advice on how to get hired and excel at the Department.

After completing their Peace Corps service, volunteers gain up to three years of noncompetitive eligibility (NCE), which means they can be hired by federal agencies without going through the competitive hiring process. Those interested in joining RPCVs@ State or who have questions about hiring RPCVs can contact RPCVs@state.gov.

Kourtni Gonzalez, communications director, and Amanda Pascal, publications director, RPCVs@State
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Author:Gonzalez, Kourtni; Pascal, Amanda
Publication:State Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2015
Words:821
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