Joining the Peace Corps – Pros & Cons

peace-corps1Want to see the world and experience other cultures? The Peace Corps may be right for you. Each year, approximately 15,000 to 18,000 Americans apply to serve. While locales vary from year to year, present opportunities range from the islands of Jamaica and the Dominican Republic, to the mountains of Nepal and Peru. Volunteers serve in China, Madagascar, South Africa, and 50 other countries around the world.
Since its founding in the midst of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, the Peace Corps has become the best-known volunteer-abroad program available to American citizens. However, that doesn’t mean it hasn’t had its share of critics: 1960 presidential candidate Richard M. Nixon claimed it would become a “haven for draft dodgers,” while an editorial in the Harvard Crimson said that “the Peace Corps is arrogant and colonialist in the same way as the government of which it is part.”
However, a 2011 Rasmussen Report survey indicated that almost two-thirds of adult Americans now have a favorable opinion of the Peace Corps. And a 2011 survey of volunteers run in part by the Peace Corps found that the program has had a very positive effect on those who sign up for it:
90% rated their experience as excellent or very good.
92% said it changed their lives.
98% would recommend the Peace Corps to their child, grandchild, or other close family member.
Over the past 50-plus years, young Americans have joined the organization in droves seeking to help others, learn the ways and languages of different cultures, and gain an advantage in the job market when they return.

Origin of the Peace Corps

In 1961, the world’s superpowers were in the midst of the Cold War. The Soviet Union and the United States faced off in Berlin, resulting in the Soviets building a wall separating East and West Germany. A CIA-sponsored military invasion to overthrow Cuba’s President Fidel Castro ended with the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion and set the table for another face-off in 1962 with the Cuban Missile Crisis. Halfway around the world, Southeast Asia was considered the pivotal point in the war between communism and democracy, leading President John F. Kennedy to commit special forces, military equipment, and financial support to South Vietnam.
While the Peace Corps mission is to “promote world peace and friendship,” the competition between superpowers was a major factor in its creation. President Kennedy recognized that the Soviets “had hundreds of men and women, scientists, physicists, teachers, doctors, engineers, and nurses…prepared to spend their lives abroad in the service of world communism.” Kennedy wanted a counter-program that involved “Americans more actively in the cause of global democracy, peace, development, and freedom.”
As a consequence, the Peace Corps was founded by executive order on March 1, 1961, and authorized by Congress later that year. The first group of 51 volunteers arrived in Ghana to begin their service. By the end of 1961, more than 500 volunteers were serving in nine host countries: Chile, Colombia, Ghana, India, Nigeria, the Philippines, St. Lucia, Tanzania, and Pakistan. By 2015, almost 220,000 Americans had served in 140 separate countries.
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10 Best U.S. Cities to Live Without a Car

biketoworkAccording to the 2015 edition of AAA’s Your Driving Costs, the average annual cost to own and operate a vehicle in the U.S. is $8,698. This includes fuel, maintenance, tires, auto insurance, license and registration fees, taxes, depreciation and finance charges – but not the cost of vehicle storage or parking your car at a meter.
Even a small sedan like a Honda Civic or Ford Focus can set you back $7,606 annually, while a large vehicle like a Ford Explorer or a Jeep Grand Cherokee has a yearly expense of $11,931. The cost of owning and operating a single car can exceed the monthly food costs for a family of four, while operating two cars in a family can generate costs greater than the average mortgage payment in the United States.

Benefits of Car-Free Living

Aside from the considerable monetary savings of being automobile-free, there are many other advantages:

Less Environmental Pollution

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, operating automobiles is the single greatest cause of air pollution. Pollution results from the combustion process and spills hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide. According to the EPA, carbon dioxide is considered the primary greenhouse gas contributor to recent climate change. Automobiles are also major causes of of smog and acid rain.

Increased Personal Safety

According to U.S. Census data, there are approximately 11 million automobile accidents each year. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration states that this results in more than 30,000 deaths, 2.3 million injuries, and, according to a separate report by the NHTSA, an almost $1 trillion cost of productivity and loss of life. Living without a car dramatically reduces the likelihood of death or injury related to cars, as pedestrian deaths are far more unlikely than those of car drivers or passengers.

Better Health

Without an automobile, people increase the time and distance they walk each day when commuting to and from work or when shopping. Health authorities from the American Heart Association to the Arthritis Foundation recommend daily walking as the key to long-term health. The benefits can include weight loss, longer life, better sleep, and reduced Alzheimer’s risk.

Less Stress

MIT’s Sensible City Lab and automaker Audi did a study on driving and learned that stress levels for driving in city traffic and skydiving from an airplane for the first time were about the same. Karl Greco, one of the project leaders, claims, “Certain driving situations can be one of the most stressful activities in our lives.”
A 2014 article in TIME magazine noted several studies about drivers who commute more than 10 miles each way to work and the deleterious effects upon their mental and physical health. John Casada, a psychiatrist who specializes in anger issues, says, “Sitting in traffic all boxed up in your car, running late and feeling powerless to improve your situation, is a perfect recipe for stress… As our society spends more time commuting amid more and more traffic, it’s no surprise that rates of aggressive driving and road rage are on the rise as well.”
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