Peace Corps Experience

When I was in high school, I had to do a report for my English class on an organization, so I wrote mine on the Peace Corps. After graduating from college and working for a few years, I had the desire to travel more and learn another language. After researching short-term language programs, I realized that my best option to learn another language was to immerse myself in another culture, rather than a 3 week course. Becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer would allow me the opportunity to get work experience, learn another language and immerse myself in another culture for a period of 27 months. 

In 2019, I went through the interview and application process to become a Peace Corps Volunteer and in December 2019 I received my invitation to serve as a Community Economic Development Volunteer in Bulgaria. I accepted the invitation and in June 2000, I flew to Chicago, Illinois for my in-country service training, where I met 70 other Americans who would be in my training group. After spending a few days in Chicago, we all flew to Bulgaria. Our training period of 3 months was spent in the town of Dupnitsa, where I lived with a Bulgarian family who didn’t speak any English. Since I did not know any Bulgarian our initial conversations involved charades. My training was immersive, Monday – Friday 8am-5pm where I attended ‘classes’ which consisted of Bulgarian language learning; Bulgarian culture, history and sector (Community Economic Development) training, as well as medical information, and site visits. At the end of my training period, I was officially sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer and found that I would be placed to work in the town of Razlog, population 13,000, for the next 2 years. 

In September 2000, I moved to Razlog to work with the municipal government. I worked for the Mayor of Razlog and my counterpart was the Senior Expert of Culture and Public Relations. Throughout my 2 year term: I provided support to the Municipal Government, Business Center and Local Economic Development Agency in project planning, grant writing, project implementation, and management; Designed and implemented individual community projects and grants that supported local governance, minority, civil society, and youth initiatives; Supported the objects and aims of various international aid agencies (PHARE, UNDP, USAID, Council of Europe, and the European Union) through the implementation of strategic development plans.; Project implementation, management, and evaluation of a $5,000 USAID grant.; Grant research, development writing, and management on multiple projects.

I worked four days a week, so I had the flexibility to travel around Bulgaria on the weekends. If I didn’t stay in my town, then I was traveling to see other volunteers. Since we were not allowed to drive, I traveled mostly via bus and sometimes by train. I was able to see the landscape of the country and enjoy the different food. Some of my favorites were shopska salata and moussaka.  I also had the opportunity to travel outside of Bulgaria while living there and went to on trips to Greece, Austria, France, Belgium, Germany, and Turkey, 

In March 2002, I received a call from my Peace Corps Program Manager sharing with me an opportunity to go to East Timor. They were looking to have volunteers who are in their 2nd year of service, extend for a third year to start the Peace Corps in East Timor. They were recruiting 2nd year Community Economic Development  and Health Volunteers. I was nominated by my Country Director and Program Manager, since I had been serving in a small community. I applied and was accepted into the program.

In June 2022, I left my community of Razlog and Bulgaria, for a quick trip home to California before traveling to Washington, DC for my in-country service training. My training group was 18 other Americans who had recently served elsewhere with the Peace Corps; three of us in Bulgaria. We had a shortened training period in the capital of Dili and throughout this time I lived with a family. Training consisted of Tetun-Dili language learning, East Timor culture, history and sector (Local Governance Promotion) training, as well as medical information, and site visits. At the end of my training period I was placed in Aileu to work for the District Administration. Throughout my 6 months at site, I was a able to: Provide support to the District Administration, United Nations Portuguese Peace Keeping Forces, United Nations Military Observers, United Nations Police Forces, and the community in establishing a local governance framework.; Supported the objects and aims of Peace Corps in a new nation through the development of project plans.; Experience in economic development, strategic planning and program development—focusing on local governance and grass-roots development.; Community development experience, working with a variety of actors within the development world—including local schools, non-governmental organizations, the media, and local businesses as well as international aid organizations such as the United Nations.

My experience living abroad was a good experience. I definitely had my ups and downs throughout my 2 ½ years abroad. I am grateful for the time that I was able to spend in 2 countries for a longer period of time, which allowed me to accomplish my initial goal of learning another language, getting work experience, meeting new people, and learning about a new culture. I believe that my time abroad gave me an understanding of the challenges and joys that the international students that I work with are experiencing, while studying here in the U.S. I encourage you to learn more about the Peace Corps, as well as continue to gain new experiences by traveling. 

Suzanne Pendergrass

Assistant Director, International Student and Scholar Services

Returned Peace Corps Volunteer: Alieu, EAST TIMOR June 2002 – November 2002; Razlog Bulgaria June 2000-June 2002

Student Spotlight: Gunraj Singh

Gunraj Singh

Gunraj was our undergraduate student recipient of the Louie Barozzi Scholarship this year that recognized SJSU international students for their contributions to the community and commitment to international education.

Major: BS in Software Engineering

Home Country: India


What would you say is your greatest accomplishment during your time at SJSU?

I am honored to be serving as a Student Ambassador and as a Peer Educator for San Jose State University. I am a Proud Spartan! And it gives me immense joy and pride to give back to this inspiring campus community. 

What student or community organizations, internships, etc. are you involved with? How has your involvement impacted your SJSU experience?

Some of my current involvements include: 

Peer Educator – Peer Connections 

Student Ambassador – Student Outreach & Recruitment 

President – Global Student Network 

Academic Committee Chair – Sikh Student Association 

Lead Dancer – Spartan Bhangra 

Treasurer – Society of Global Engineers 

Intern – Tynor Orthotics Pvt. Ltd 

The amount of resilience and passion that this campus community has instilled in me is beyond compare. 

Putting myself out and getting involved on campus is probably one of the best decisions I have made so far. 

What is your advice/message to fellow international students?

Work Hard, Reach Out and Get Involved! 

Student Spotlight: Keenan Guillas

Keenan Guillas

Keenan was our graduate student recipient of the Louie Barozzi Scholarship this year that recognized SJSU international students for their contributions to the community and commitment to international education.

Major: MS in Marine Science

Home Country: Canada


What would you say is your greatest accomplishment during your time at SJSU?

This fall I have been accepted to participate in a one-week training course in my field in Blanes, Spain, and the following week I will be presenting preliminary data from my thesis research at the largest international conference in my field in Leiden, The Netherlands. Being able to network with the international research community and receive training and feedback about my research from prominent researchers in the field will be hugely important for the continued development both of my research at SJSU, as well as of my professional skillset and network for after graduate school.

What student or community organizations, internships, etc. are you involved with? How has your involvement impacted your SJSU experience?

I serve as Student Body Vice President of Moss Landing Marine Laboratories (MLML), SJSU’s marine science campus located on Monterey Bay, where I complete all course and thesis requirements for my SJSU degree. I am also an editor on MLML’s student-run blog, and I mentor undergraduate students from CSUMB through their Undergraduate Research Opportunities Center. These experiences have helped me become a tight part of the MLML community and work for the change students need; have helped me develop skills in science communication and outreach; and have lent me agency to strengthen the relationship between research programs and students at SJSU and CSUMB.

What is your advice/message to fellow international students?

As international students, the logistics and finances of our situation at school is, from the start, more tricky to balance than it is for domestic students. This creates a higher hurdle we must clear in order to achieve success, and at the beginning of my time at SJSU, this was discouraging. However, perhaps because of this very disparity, I realized early on that building an extensive personal and professional support network at MLML/SJSU would be crucial to my success in my program, and I have thus become even more involved in my community than I think I would have as a domestic student. In community-building and in academic and professional work, I think my status as an international student has pushed me to achieve more and reach for higher goals than I otherwise would have. I have at times had a larger workload than other students might, but I have also met with much higher rewards and a stronger feeling of success than I perhaps would have at an institution in my own country. My advice to fellow international students is that the way to success as an international student is to recognize and accept our increased challenges, and to treat them not as burdens or hindrances but as motivators to soar even higher and achieve greatness.

Learn more about Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving is a U.S. holiday, dedicated to giving thanks for the things we have, and celebrating the fall harvest. It typically falls on the fourth Thursday of every November. Thanksgiving was declared a national holiday by president Abraham Lincoln in the year 1863. 

Many Americans generally believe that Thanksgiving is modeled after a 1621 harvest feast shared with the Pilgrims who lived and settled at Plymouth Rock, and the Native American Wampanoag tribe. This is why you see many Thanksgiving decorations with Pilgrim and Native American motifs.

The Thanksgiving holidays are the busiest travel days in the U.S annually, as people travel home to celebrate. It is a time to come together with family and friends, and to feast on a traditional Thanksgiving meal. It is most common to eat stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole, collard greens, dinner rolls, pumpkin pie, and of course TURKEY! 

Caption: A traditional Thanksgiving meal at home.

There are also many regional variations in side dishes, such as mac and cheese, oyster stuffing, and you may find fried turkey in Texas. Many multicultural dishes are also making their way into Thanksgiving dinner, such as tamales, manicotti, and empanadas. Many families will also have their own personal transitional dishes and sides. 

Aside from eating so much food, other traditional Thanksgiving activities include watching football games, and the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, which is held in New York city. The first parade was held in 1924, and was first televised in 1953. This parade features floats, giant balloons of popular characters in pop culture, performances by high school marching bands, local Broadway shows, and Santa Claus is usually seen at the end of the parade to mark the beginning of the holiday season in the U.S. 

Caption: A giant turkey float, and cartoon dog balloon going down a street in NYC for the Thanksgiving parade.

We hope you enjoy Thanksgiving this year with good food and friendship!


Written by: Victoria Hudak, International Student Advisor

Hot Topics Roundtable: Job Hunting as an International Student

Join us online November 16, 2022 from 2:00-3:00 PM as we celebrate International Education Week!

Job hunting as an international student brings its own set of unique challenges as you navigate immigration regulations and cultural differences. In this Roundtable Discussion, we’ll hear from a panel of international students and alumni as well as SJSU staff who work closely with international students. Topics will focus on what’s important to you, and you can submit questions when you register for the event. We also want to hear from you, and encourage you to participate in the discussion by sharing your experience, challenges, and questions regarding employment as an international student. Format of the event will include: Panel Discussion on Hot Topics (20 minutes) followed by an interactive Roundtable Discussion with participants (30 minutes).

Meet our panelists!

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