Fey Joins the Peace Corps

By Deb Fowlks

Sidney Fey, Jr., a graduate of Avon High School and a senior at St. Louis University, has joined the Peace Corps and will leave for his assignment on June 8. Fey worked last summer as a staff writer at the Avon Sentinel and the Abingdon Argus. He is the son of the late Sidney Fey, Sr., and Linda and Harold Smith. He participated in an email interview, and what follows are his answers.

What exactly is the Peace Corps?

S.F.: The Peace Corps is a nonprofit governmental organization that was started by former U.S. President John Kennedy in 1961. It gives those who didn’t want to join the military a chance to provide services overseas to countries requesting it. There are basically four sections of service that the Peace Corps offers to foreign countries: teaching, agriculture, health, and economic and civil development.

Teaching involves predominantly the English language, AIDS prevention, education, and community development. Agriculture may encompass the teaching of community leaders on proper irrigation, crop rotations, and fisheries. Health is mostly nursing. Economic and civil development may involve town engineering, road construction, and the architectural design of new buildings.

How did the idea of joining the Peace Corps become tangible to you?

S.F.: I first thought about the Peace Corps during my sophomore year of high school. I knew that I would go to college, but what I did afterward was up to me. I realized that I didn’t want to go into the workforce immediately after college, so I explored my options. I joined Alpha Phi Omega, a service fraternity, in my junior year at Saint Louis University.

I decided to do some form of service after graduating, since that would be the one time in my life without the daily demands of a mortgage, car payment, or job. I looked at the Jesuit Volunteer Corps and other religiously-affiliated service organizations, but they didn’t appeal to me. I wanted a longer commitment and to go overseas, both of which were offered by the Peace Corps.

What kind of process is involved in joining the Peace Corps?

S.F.: It is a long and drawn-out process. The first step is a 17-page application that requests an updated resume, college transcript, and three references. Potential volunteers must undergo a physical and dental exam, as well as numerous inoculations. There is also an interview with a regional recruiter who then nominates a potential volunteer.

After all the medical stages are complete, a volunteer is then invited to partake in an assignment, which entails the specific duty, country, and departure date. I returned from a Spring Break trip to Mexico to find a message from my mom telling me that I had received a package from the Peace Corps. It was my invitation to serve in the program, departing June 8, 2004, to teach English, AIDS education, prevention, and community development in Mongolia.

Where are you going to be located?

S.F.: When I first arrive in Mongolia, I will undergo three months of training in Ulaanbaatar, the capital city. I will be enrolled in language and culture courses with other volunteers and live with a host family to help with my language skills. Afterward, I will be relocated to a more remote region to work at a local high school as a full-time teacher.

Mongolia is located north of China and south of Russia. It is about the size of Alaska and has about two million people. It is very mountainous and usually 20 degrees colder than the Midwest. It is sometimes called “the country of blue skies” since it rarely rains in the south and central areas. The northern region receives plenty of rainfall and is said to be one of the most unblemished forested areas in the world. Mongolia is mostly Tibetan Buddhist and gained its freedom from China in 1921. It has a parliamentary government and is a stable and “sleepy” country.

When are you leaving?

S.F.: I fly to Washington D.C. on June 8, and then fly to Ulaanbaatar on June 10. My training is complete on August 28, 2004, and I will receive my final assignment. I return to the United States on August 28, 2006.

What will your duties include once you reach your destination of service?

S.F.: I will primarily be teaching English and performing all the duties of a regular teacher: working 40 hours a week, attending staff meetings, creating lesson plans, administering tests, and assigning homework. I will also help other local teachers improve their English and teach members of the community about AIDS and HIV, as well as promote volunteerism and community development.

You are graduating from SLU this Spring. How do you feel about this new chapter in your life?

S.F.: When I received the package with my confirmation invitation, I also received information about the commencement ceremony. It dawned on me that I was essentially holding my future. I am very excited about my involvement with the Peace Corps, though I am, of course, nervous as well. I feel confident in my choices, regardless of any anxiety I may have.

How are you preparing for this?

S.F.: I started a journal that I intend to use to chronicle my time overseas. I also make sure to talk about my thoughts and concerns with family, friends, and Peace Corps staff, who ensure that all future volunteers deal with their emotions head-on instead of ignoring them.

What will you miss most about home?

S.F.: It sounds awful, but instead of missing family, friends, and my past life, I am more concerned about missing my creature comforts such as Mountain Dew, my Ford Explorer, and other trivial aspects of life.

What are you most looking forward to?

S.F.: I cannot wait to live overseas and travel. One of the perks of service is that I receive four weeks of vacation per year, enabling me to travel far more than I normally would. I fully intend to visit Japan, Russia, China, and Vietnam while I serve in Mongolia. I hope to spend my 23rd birthday in Hong Kong or Tokyo.

Once your obligations to the Peace Corps have concluded, what do your plans include?

S.F.: When I return in 2006, I hope to have a career in public relations for a government agency. My ideal employer would be the State Department, though I could work for any agency for a few years and transfer over. I have a better chance of getting a government job after serving in the Peace Corps; some positions, such as the Peace Corps administration, are only open to returned volunteers. I would prefer to live in either Chicago or Washington D.C., though I really have no idea where I will end up.