How She Got There: Carrie Hessler-Radelet, Director of the Peace Corps

Name: Carrie Hessler-Radelet

Job Title and Description: Peace Corps Director

College Name: Boston University

Website: www.Peacecorps.Gov

Twitter Handle: @PeaceCorpsDir and @PeaceCorps


What does your current job entail? Is there such a thing as a typical day?

Carrie Hessler-Radelet: I always say that I have the best job in the world! As Director of the Peace Corps, I hardly ever have a typical day. My schedule is always packed full of interesting meetings, events and travel. One week I might be meeting with members of Congress on Capitol Hill, and the next week I could be hiking to a Peace Corps volunteer’s site on a remote island in Vanuatu. I love that every day is different! 

My job also requires me to do a lot of public speaking. To be honest, public speaking is something I’ve had to get used to. But, it gives me a chance to talk about our volunteers – and there is nothing better than sharing stories of their amazing impact around the globe.


What is the best part of your job?

CHR: The most rewarding part of working at Peace Corps is being surrounded by incredible people everywhere I look – people who teach me, inspire me, and push me to be the best version of myself. Every day I meet someone – a Peace Corps staff member, a volunteer or a host community member – whose life has changed because of the Peace Corps.  


Many college women are looking into careers in public service. What do you think is the best thing about becoming a part of a program like the Peace Corps?

​CHR: Service in the Peace Corps is a life-changing, hands-on leadership experience that offers volunteers the opportunity to travel to the farthest corners of the world and make a lasting difference in the lives of others.

Peace Corps volunteers return home as global citizens with new perspectives. They develop cross-cultural, leadership, language, teaching and community development skills that give them a competitive edge for advanced education and job opportunities in our global economy. These are vital skills that employers are looking for now more than ever. The unique Peace Corps experience helps returned volunteers find success across a number of fields and industries, and many continue their service in their communities back home.

But most importantly, Peace Corps service changes lives - first and foremost your own - and gives you the chance to make a difference. 


On that note, what’s something that most people might not know about volunteering with the Peace Corps or a similar program?

​CHR: I truly believe that Peace Corps is a launching pad for 21st century careers. There are so many career and educational benefits to Peace Corps service that many people may not know about – public student loan deferment and forgiveness programs, unique graduate school opportunities and non-competitive eligibility for employment in the federal government, just to name a few.

And best of all you'll make lifelong friends and perhaps even find your life partner! That happens a lot in the Peace Corps. My best friends in the world are still my Peace Corps friends.


You served as Peace Corps volunteer in Western Samoa. What was the best part of that experience, and what’s the most valuable lesson you learned? 

​CHR: I joined Peace Corps in part because it was in my DNA.  Four generations of my family have served, including my aunt, both of my grandparents, my husband, my nephew and myself. When I applied to serve as a Peace Corps volunteer with my husband Steve, I didn’t know how the Peace Corps would transform my life. I didn’t know yet the kind of relationships that I would form – lifelong friendships that would transcend time and distance alike.   


Who is one person who changed your professional life for the better?

​CHR: Earlier this year I had the privilege of meeting a Peace Corps trainee named Shalin Shah, and while I knew him only briefly, I can honestly say that Shalin was one of the most courageous, purpose-driven and other-centered people I have ever met. Shalin had nearly completed his training as a Peace Corps volunteer in Peru when he was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of cancer. He had to return immediately to the United States for treatment. 

Even while undergoing grueling chemotherapy and radiation, he remained in close contact with his Peace Corps Peru family. But, when Shalin left Peru, he had just one week of training to go before being sworn in as an official volunteer. And being a Peace Corps volunteer had been his lifelong dream.

It was one of the greatest honors of my life to help fulfill Shalin’s dream of becoming a Peace Corps volunteer. The photograph we took from his swearing-in, in the lobby of the UCLA medical center, sits on my desk, and reminds me of Shalin’s message: to live life to the fullest, every single day, no matter the circumstances.


What has been the most surreal moment of your career thus far?

​CHR: Recently I returned to Samoa for the first time in 30 years. I left Samoa having completed my service as a Peace Corps volunteer only to return as the director of the agency. And I have to say, the best part of the trip was my reunion with my host family. I didn’t know if they would even remember us after all this time because we had lost touch about 20 years ago. But Losa, my host mom, was indeed there, living on the same plot of land as she did when we were volunteers. Our reunion was so joyful! There were hugs, tears and laughter all around, and we picked up right where we left off 32 years ago.


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