11 Years Later, My Journey to the Peace Corps

By Will

This past Tuesday, I was reflecting on another Tuesday, eleven years prior, when our country and my generation’s future were completely altered by the terrorist attacks of 9/11. In one morning we seemed to jump from the lingering placid feelings of the 1990’s to the then frightening and mysterious future.

On this blog, its been mentioned a few times that serving in the Peace Corps was something that I had long wanted to do, but I haven’t fully explained the origins of that aspiration.

Will (on the right) and his brother Cole, circa 2001. No comments on the shirt, please.

I was 19 at the time and in the midst of my sophomore year at the College of Charleston. By the time that semester was underway, I was comfortable at school and in Charleston, had made many new friends, had a new girlfriend and my apartment was closer to Folly Beach than C of C’s campus. Needless to say, College The Experience was at the top of my priority list, while academics was competing with sleep at the bottom. My GPA from that semester still serves as firm evidence that I succeeded in sticking to this plan.

In the months following the 9/11 attacks, the New York Times ran a series of short, 3-4 paragraph stories on many of the people who died in the World Trade Center towers. One day, late in the semester, I was in the library (likely, not for studying) and I came across that day’s paper. One of the people profiled caught my eye–Ervin Gailliard. His biggest dream had been to go to college. However, he was orphaned as a teenager and couldn’t afford it, so he joined the Army and later became a security guard working in the twin towers.

This profile really hit me hard because, there I was, squandering the opportunity that had been handed to me while this guy never had the chance, despite wanting it so badly. I decided that maybe I needed a break from school to straighten it out. Later that day, I came across a flyer for the Peace Corps in one of the classroom buildings. It seemed like the perfect solution and, during that atmosphere of strong patriotism, it felt like it was the least I could do. I spent the next few days reading about and researching the program until I discovered that you needed a college degree or to have a great deal of technical skills to apply.

I wasn’t able to apply for Peace Corps at that time, but the whole revelation was the kick in the pants that I needed at the time. I kept the guy’s profile in my backpack and rededicated myself to school. At the same time, the idea of Peace Corps didn’t go away, I just assumed I would do it when I finished college. My academics turned around and I graduated in 2004 as Highly Distinguished and on the Honor Roll. However, the Peace Corps would have to wait as, shortly before graduating, I was offered a job working for then-Congressman Ken Lucas (D-KY) in Washington, DC, and getting to DC was my big dream at the time.

The idea of Peace Corps continued to sit on the back-burner of my mind while I was in DC, hoping that eventually the opportunity to serve would come about. Fortunately, when Amy and I began to talk about our future together, Peace Corps became part of that plan and after applying and meeting the Peace Corps requirement of being married for one year, we were accepted. We are now on the other side of the world, enjoying (almost) every single minute of the adventure.

A lot has happened in the last 11 years, since that Tuesday in September, but the path to where I am today starts there. And I’ve never forgotten about Ervin Gailliard who never got to go to college.


12 thoughts on “11 Years Later, My Journey to the Peace Corps

  1. Never mind the shirt, what about that do!? So interesting how/why people wind up where they do and I think it’s awesome that you and Amy are able to live out one of your dreams and honoring Mr. Ervin in the process. We are the lucky ones.

  2. Hi Will. My last name has changed….I’m Lauryn Hensley’s mom.

    I’ve been in FB contact w ur dad abt politics etc going on in the states and at one point the conversation turned to you so he sent me the link to your blog. I look forward to reading more abt you and your work.
    I now live in the LA area and have been teaching
    English to university internationals for abt 6 years and have come to love and enjoy so many people from so many cultures! I feel very lucky.
    Last summer my husband’s university hosted students from Indonesia, Singapore, and the Philippines for 6 weeks. They were on state department scholarships and came to study journalism and experience the American culture. As well, they were chaperoned to Washington DC and NYC. What a group they were, and what a privilege it was to have known and worked w them!
    In light of recent world events, I believe that work like yours is becoming even more important and than ever.

    • Thanks for writing, Anne, its good to hear from you. We are about a fifth of the way through our service here, and everyday we learn something new about the culture. Even after two years, I think we’ll have just barely scraped the iceberg.

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