Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia—In his guide book to volunteering for the Peace Corps, The Unofficial Peace Corps Volunteer Handbook, Campbell University alumnus Travis Hellstrom (’07) provides sage advice on everything from applying to the Peace Corps to the clothes one should pack.
According to Hellstrom, who is completing a third year as a Peace Corps volunteer in Mongolia, the Peace Corps may be “the toughest job you’ll ever love,” but you don’t always have to learn about it the hard way.
“This is a handbook we wish someone would have given us, something no one has provided before,” he said. “A companion book that allows you to learn from the experiences of outstanding volunteers and catalog your own experience from the very beginning of your service to the end.”
The Unofficial Peace Corps Volunteer Handbook is a guide and journal in an easy-to-use format for volunteers to consult before they join, while they serve and after they come back from their Peace Corps experience.
“Everyone’s service is personal and unique that is why we made the book both a guide and a journal for recording each volunteer’s personal experiences,” said Hellstrom. “Their name goes on the front cover because it is theirs.”
Currently, the book contains seven sections that deal with applying, preparing and training for the Peace Corps; what to expect during the first and second years of service; returning to America and helpful resources to consult.
“We have incredible advice from dozens of volunteers all around the world,” said Hellstrom. “One of my favorite pieces of advice comes from two returning Peace Corps volunteers who said ‘Pack light, pack light, pack light!’”
Hellstrom, a pre-med/biology major, became interested in the Peace Corps during his sophomore year at Campbell. He attended meetings of the National Peace Corps Association (NPCA) in Raleigh and began communicating with returned Peace Corps volunteers and Peace Corps staff regularly. A trip to Costa Rica with Campbell’s Study Abroad program, also spurred Hellstrom’s interest as he visited volunteers in the field at the Peace Corps Costa Rica headquarters.
“The more people I met, the more I loved the organization and knew I wanted to become a Peace Corps volunteer,” he said.
During his senior year at Campbell, Hellstrom applied to the Peace Corps, was interviewed and invited to become a volunteer. He arrived in Mongolia in May 2008, completed three months of pre-service training which is standard for all Peace Corps volunteers, and began his two years of service.
For two years, Hellstrom was stationed in the eastern Steppe of Mongolia in Sukhbaatar Province where he worked in the provincial Health Department helping to oversee health education, community health and health-care delivery, as well as the improvement of dozens of clinics and hospitals throughout the province. Now he is serving a third year, an extension of his original 27 months of service, at Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia where he works at the Peace Corps Mongolia headquarters and also works part-time for the World Health Organization.
“Mongolians are wonderful and incredible people going through changes that have been difficult for dozens of countries around the world: emerging as a new democracy, exploring the challenges of a new open-market economy and trying to find a balance between traditional and modern life,” Hellstrom said. “As Peace Corps volunteers, our job is to listen, to understand and to do what we can to help our host country friends however they ask.”
The Unofficial Peace Corps Volunteer Handbook is available online through Lulu.com, where $4 from the purchase of every book is donated to Peace Corps projects; and Amazon.com, where $1 from every book is donated to Peace Corps projects. To order the book, visit www.peacecorpshandbook.com.
Photo Copy: Travis Hellstrom, far left, running in a winter health and sports competition in Mongolia.