January 30, 2005
The power of international experience
Seattle Times business reporter
TAKUMA JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL / 2001
Had she been given a choice, Kirsten Franklin-Temple of Seattle would have gladly chosen running water over electricity. She wasn't given a choice, however; she had to live with neither.
Franklin-Temple, 29, spent two years after graduating from college working as a Peace Corps volunteer in the West African nation of Gabon. She was like many other new graduates: unsure of what path to take. She had lived abroad while growing up and wanted to work in a social-service setting. The more she thought about it, joining the Peace Corps seemed like the perfect option.
"It fit with what I was looking for," Franklin-Temple said. "I was interested in grass-roots development. You're really there to train the local people to take care of themselves. You're there to train people with the skills that you have."
The post-college decision process was similar for Shannon Quinn, a native of Seattle and 2000 graduate of the University of Washington.
Quinn majored in international studies and studied in Japan for one year.
Her goal was to continue gaining international experience before pursuing a graduate degree, so she decided to spend two years teaching English in Japan.
Highlights of two well-known programs
Concept: Places volunteers to live and work in a developing nation.
Stated philosophy: To help the people in other countries meet their needs for trained men and women, help promote a better understanding of Americans and help Americans better understand people in other countries.
Commitment: Two years
Benefits: Program provides transportation, training, housing, food and medical care. Volunteers receive $6,075 at the end of service.
More information: www.peacecorps.org
Japan English Teaching (JET) Program
Concept: Teaching English in a junior high or high school in Japan.
Stated philosophy: To promote international understanding at the local level by inviting young overseas graduates to assist in international exchange and foreign-language education in local governments, boards of education and junior- and senior-high schools throughout Japan.
Commitment: One year.
Benefits: Living stipend of about 3,600,000 yen (about $35,000) per year, minus the cost of health insurance.
Deadline: First week of December for 2006. Applications become available in September.
More information: www.jetprogram.org
Check out more opportunities at: www.volunteerinternational.org
Similar to the Peace Corps, Quinn's choice, the Japan English Teaching (JET) Program, put her in a foreign country where she was expected to contribute to and thrive in a different culture.
International experiences make college graduates more attractive to employers, said Susan Terry, director of career resources at the University of Washington.
People can become fluent in another language, develop relationships, learn to communicate in the face of cultural differences and garner a new appreciation for one's career, Terry said.
Peace Corps The Peace Corps ranks UW as fourth among large universities for the number of students that join the Corps. There are 98 UW students in the program right now, and 2,310 have participated in the past.
In total, about 7,700 Americans work at Peace Corps sites in about 70 countries.
Franklin-Temple, a graduate of Mary Washington College in Virginia (now the University of Mary Washington), finished her service in 2001 and now works in Seattle as the regional Peace Corps recruiter for the Northwest.
"People in the Seattle area are very world-minded," she said. "It just kind of breeds more people who want to get and see more of the world."
As an agricultural volunteer, Franklin-Temple taught children to grow tomatoes and vegetables their families were used to buying at the market. In the evenings, she taught English lessons and led an after-school program for young girls.
The hardest part of her experience was getting her project running.
Her community had never had a Peace Corps volunteer and was reluctant to work with her at first, especially because she was a woman.
She eventually won over the villagers with her farming and agricultural knowledge.
"The biggest thing I brought back was how lucky I was to have been born in the U.S.," Franklin-Temple said.
"It helped me personally in realizing how materialistic people are in the U.S. and how little I need. I got rid of a lot of stuff when I came back to U.S."
After returning to the U.S., she worked at a refugee-resettlement agency in Richmond, Va., for three years and then became a Peace Corps recruiter in 2002.
"You realize you are one person and you can't help everyone and you want to help everyone," Franklin-Temple said.
"It's challenging. You have to measure successes one by one whether they are great leaps or little successes."
JET Program Participants in the JET Program do not need to know any Japanese before they start the program but are expected to learn the language during their stay.
Most participants are placed in small communities, where they are often the only non-Japanese person.
There are more than 6,100 participants this year from about 41 countries.
"You dive into it, and everyone deals with it differently," said Lynn Miyauchi, JET Program coordinator at the Japanese Consulate in Seattle.
Miyauchi, a Seattle native and third-generation Japanese American, was a participant from 1990 to 1993.
The program looks for people who like working with others, especially children, and who are willing and interested in meeting new people, speaking in front of groups and respecting a different culture.
"People are really friendly," Quinn said.
"When I went to the grocery store, I had people come up to me and show me where the ice cream was."
Participants can renew their contract twice or up to three years of service.
Some participants also choose to stay in Japan and pursue other opportunities.
Another benefit of the program is networking with other alumni.
Quinn now serves as president of the Seattle Alumni Club. She has traveled throughout the U.S. to meet with other alumni leaders and is planning to make a trip to Japan this summer for an alumni conference.
"It helps you stay connected to Japan," Quinn said. "It's interesting to compare experiences."
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