Monday, March 30, 2009

Spreading of Colonial Influence Abroad via the Peace Corps

I recently came across an interesting article from March 12th written by Spencer Janyck in the WhitmanCollegePioneer entitled “The Peace Corps Spreads Colonial Influence Abroad”. Spencer writes “The United States has a long and sorbid history of colonization and destruction of other people and other ways of life that we have deemed “inappropriate” and “savage”…I see the Peace Corps largely as modern-day missionaries, taking up the civilized man’s burden and traveling abroad to teach others precisely what’s wrong with their societies.”

Just under two weeks ago I posted part of a promotional video from March 1961 of President Kennedy outlining the Peace Corps Program. The first time I watched/listened to the video I was taken aback by something the commentator said within the first 25 seconds of the video. Specifically, part of the video that stated “interest in President Kennedy’s proposed Peace Corps continues to rise among American youth. Here are the forerunners of the Peace Corps, American exchange students now overseas in backwards and depressed areas of the world…” made we stop to think “backwards in the eyes of whom?”

I fully support the Peace Corps and have blogged about it a few times on this blog. I wanted to post about this interesting view about the Peace Corps to see what IHEC Blog readers think. Where do you stand on the Peace Corps?


  1. I think the person writing this doesn't have much current information about the Peace Corps. There are lots of myths that have been intertwined with some bad stories of the Peace Corps- then kept alive by people who want to be angry at something. The good done by PCVs so far outweighs the bad that I find it difficult to give this sort of thing much credence. I was not a PCV, but I lived in a country where there were a large number. I was not a missionary, nor was I a PCV. I was there to help set up programs like 4-H. Thirty years later the programs are still functioning with locals in charge- as they were then. Some PCVs may be ineffective, but I don't know of any who were destructive. Some are highly effective and very tuned into empowering locals to meet their goals (goals set by the individuals from the local communities, by the way). Many are teachers or agriculturalists or health workers. I would want to read the entire article before passing final judgement but in general I have found RPCV's much more sensitive and appropriate than most tourists, short-term missionaries, and study abroad students. And there is huge variation among the hundreds of thousands of individuals who have served- I think most of them are more sensitive than the average undergraduate student I see daily. (I work at a large public university in International Programs.) It is good to be have a critical view of things, especially one's own perspectives, but being a critic without specific grounding for such claims seems unfair and "inappropriate."

  2. Dear Anonymous, Many thanks for your great comments! I agree with your point of view on this topic expecially when you state “I have found RPCV’s much more sensitive and appropriate than most tourists, short-term missionaries, and study abroad students.” I plan to post in the near future on increasing U.S. study abroad numbers to 1,000,000 and if this would be a good or bad thing (from a public diplomacy aspect) to encourage comments and dialogue. Thanks again, Anonymous, for your post and I look forward to your feedback and comments on future posts!

  3. Although this post quite some time ago, I wanted to respond to the intitial comment as I have a different experience with PCVs while I was an international volunteer who interacted with several PCVs. I met many fantastic PCVs but also more than a couple that were destructive. I worked closely with one that was incredibly destructive. Perhaps it is always difficult to generalize, especially considering that the PC must differ a great deal amongst its international locations. A lot might depend on who is preparing and managing these volunteers, also a contributing factor with study abroad students! My experience made me skeptical of the PC as I reported the destructive behavior and no action was taken. However, I would still consider myself as a strong supporter and I would agree that there is more good than harm. I also have only positive experiences with RPCVs. I would also like to acknowledge that there would naturally be destructive individuals across most volunteer or international exchange programs, not just the PC.

  4. @Anonymous #2 ~ I think you make some valid points. I think with any endeavor there will be a small number who have a negative impact on the purpose and the process.