Michael Guyer met his wife at a bus stop in Slovakia. “We were both running for the bus to Bratislava and it left without us, so we spent the next few hours sitting together talking at the bus stop,” says Guyer, a study abroad advisor at the University of Vermont. “That’s where it all started.”
While Peace Corps representatives can’t promise a movie-script worthy experience abroad, Guyer explains that his time serving abroad was invaluable. “I’m still connected to Slovakia. I think about it every day – not just because my wife is Slovak and we have family there. My experience in the Peace Corps made a lasting impression on me.”
A Desire to Travel Abroad
Guyer always knew he wanted to experience new cultures and see how people live outside of the United States. “I played football in college so I didn’t get the chance to go abroad, which I really regretted,” he says, adding that cultural studies were always of interest to him. “I remember for my anthropology class I needed to interview someone from a different culture, which was a really great exercise because it forced me to seek out culture nearby and be curious about different ways of living.”
When he graduated from Lebanon Valley College, Guyer got his chance to go abroad. He planned a backpacking trip with his friend and visited Europe for the first time. “That first experience abroad really opened my eyes to other cultures and languages and so much that you just can’t learn in the classroom,” he says.
It was one of those travel bug movements that made an impact. “I knew I needed to take a different path than my friends,” Guyer says. “I wanted to get abroad for a lengthy period of time and gain work experience.” The Peace Corps offered a strong network of resources around the world, with a large alumni base and career training.
Joining the Peace Corps
While he knew he wanted to live abroad, making a two-year commitment was a big decision. Guyer applied to the Peace Corps without a real idea of what to expect or where he wanted to go. “I remember when the Peace Corps representative called me to offer me three placement locations,” he says. “I didn’t really know how to choose, but because I’d just been traveling in the region I thought that Slovakia would be a good fit for me.”
Within five months, he moved to town of Myjava in Slovakia and changed the course of his life forever. “I was so excited. I should have done more research before I left, but I really just couldn’t wait to get started.”
He was placed as an English teacher in two small villages. Reflecting on his experience working in the Slovak schools, Guyer says, “often people think of Peace Corps volunteers going in and ‘saving’ that country but it’s really a cultural exchange experience. As a volunteer, you may implement a project that makes a difference, but it’s really a shared learning opportunity.”
Teaching abroad proved to be educational for Guyer. “One day, I got to work and I was surprised that there wasn’t school that day,” he recalls. “It turned out the plums were ripe and all of the students were out in the orchards picking fruit.”
Guyer remembers that the lunches at the school were much healthier than at home in the United States. It gave him a good insight into their culture and a comparison with American culture. While there was only one option every day, the food was more wholesome and everyone ate well. “It was an opportunity for me to develop a critical eye for U.S. systems and practices,” he says. “I really didn’t have a basis for comparison before, so it was important to learn how other people live.”
Teaching in the Peace Corps continues to inform his work as a study abroad advisor. “It was such a valuable experience in my life. I just want to share that with young people, who are thinking about what they want to do with their future,” he says. “I want to make a big enough impact that students consider further international education – either through study abroad or Peace Corps.”
Serving in the Peace Corp is an Experience of a Lifetime
Traveling or living abroad is an opportunity that so many people around the world do not have the chance to experience. “If you have the chance to spend significant time abroad, you’ll learn so much about yourself,” he says. “It’s something to take advantage of because it’s really a privilege.”
Thinking about what he would have done differently during his time abroad, Guyer shared, “I only wish I had dug deeper into the culture and done more while I was there. I wish I had explored Slovakia more. There were times that I could have spent with Slovaks instead of visiting with my volunteer friends.”
Drawing from his experience in the Peace Corps, Guyer continues to urge students who are going abroad to get involved. He suggests, “When you first arrive, spend time looking, learning, and listening before you do a lot of speaking.”
There is so much more to the Peace Corps than fulfilling a two-year commitment or completing the assigned project. Volunteers build relationships and make a difference by learning from and sharing with the community. “Being from the U.S., it’s important to remember that our policies influence the lives of others in so many countries,” he says. “We have a responsibility to be globally engaged – it’s the only way to be part of the solution.”
What You Can Learn from the Peace Corps
For those considering joining the Peace Corps, Guyer says, “Just go for it. You’ll never regret living abroad, whereas you may regret a missed opportunity.” He notes that he developed communication skills and a new cultural appreciation – not to mention meeting his wife.
Just like with study abroad, he says prospective employers will see that you challenged yourself and gained important professional skills, like communication across cultures. It’s an incredible opportunity to build your abilities and develop professional credibility within a global network of alumni.
“Two years goes so quickly and it’s such a short period of time at this point in your life. An experience like the Peace Corps can lay the foundation for everything that you do afterwards. It’s such a profound experience and one I think about every day,” he says, adding, “You may even meet your significant other abroad.”