Looking for a future in journalism? Try something else to stand out.

Face it, it’s a rough market for journalists. Reporters and editors are getting laid off all over the place.

So what is a student journalist to do?

I have argued to my students that they need to do something to set them apart from all the other qualified writers, editors or producers. One way is to come up with story ideas (and stories) that show how local and global events are connected. Another is to take some time between graduation and journalism work to do something that will make them look more “hire-able.”

I recommended to my students one way to do that is to sign up for the Peace Corps. And today being the 49th anniversary of the founding of the Corps got me thinking about it again.

And let us not forget that President Kennedy first proposed the idea of the Peace Corps to students at the University of Michigan in 1960.

Besides all the experiences — and language skills — a person gets working for the PC, it gives them an overseas work experience line on their resume.

When I lived in the Dominican Republic (2003-2006) my family regularly hosted large numbers of Peace Corps volunteers in our house. Each time I talked with these volunteers, I felt more impressed with the people who sign up to live in the wilderness and help others gain a better life.

The skills learned negotiating with local leaders to help them develop sustainable agriculture or build education or health infrastructure projects far exceed anything one can learn in college or in the first few years of journalism work.

Exposure to foreign cultures gives PC volunteers a wider (and better) view of how events affect people. Peace Corps volunteers end up seeing more to an issue than those who have not had the international experience.

And working in the Peace Corps — as mentioned earlier — gives a job applicant international work experience. Employers know the difference between “semester abroad” experiences, “traveled overseas,” and “worked and lived overseas.” (To my mind, there is nothing like living and working in a different culture to get a wider perspective of the world.)

Here is a partial list of some of the notable journalists who were Peace Corps volunteers:

  • David Briscoe, chief correspondent of World Desk for Associated Press (Philippines 1966-70)
  • Dan Carney, reporter for Business Week (Benin 1983-85)
  • Judy Dugan, assistant editorial page editor for the Los Angeles Times (Philippines 1966-68)
  • Josh Friedman, Pulitzer prize winner for international reporting and director of international programs, Columbia School of Journalism (Costa Rica 1964-66)
  • Kathleen Ingley, reporter for the Arizona Republic (Senegal 1972-75)
  • Al Kamen, writes In the Loop column in the Washington Post (Dominican Republic 1967-69)
  • Robert Laird, op-ed page editor for N.Y. Daily News (Somalia 1962-63)
  • Michael Maidenberg, Pulitzer prize-winning publisher and member of the board of trustees for the Knight Foundation (India 1964-66)
  • Chris Matthews, host of NBC’s Hardball (Swaziland 1968-70)

One of the other benefits of signing on with the Peace Corps for just-graduated or soon to graduate students is that many student loan programs allow loan payments to be deferred during the 18 month PC assignment.

Check out the Peace Corps here.


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