Peace Corps Volunteer Service as a 50-Year-Old: Seeking Dragons and Drinking Tea to Partner in Combating Racial Stereotypes
I turned 50-years-old at the 12-month mark of my 27 months of service as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Cambodia. Full of curiosity about this culture I knew little to nothing about when I was accepted to serve, I was quickly enchanted by the leftover vestiges of colonization and the omni-presence of dragons in Khmer architecture, whether is small rural villages or the King’s Palace gardens. I grew to gain comfort from dragons - this symbol of power and protection that allows maintenance of treasures. It became and remains a metaphor for the power of commitment to the hard work of reaching across difference to be of service to the priorities of the other, rather than my own…on their terms, rather than my own. And how the treasure of one’s own identity and sense of self-worth is strengthened in this releasing of ownership of the how of the service effort. “You’re never too old to learn,” is an understatement. Learning what I had practiced as a Clinical Psychiatric Social Worker and what I had taught as a Professor in the UT Austin School of Social Work, was actualized through both my Peace Corps Volunteer service and my subsequent work as a Peace Corps Country Director in Mongolia and Kosovo. Realizing that when I stopped blaming others for negative stereotypes held about Black people like me, I started more effectively engaging across our differences to combat those stereotypes and build the bridges necessary to make change happen.
In June 2020, Dr. Darlene Grant joined the Peace Corps Head Quarters Director’s Office as Senior Advisor. From June 2022 to February 2023, she left her office in Washington, DC for Ha Noi, Viet Nam to lead, as senior advisor, in this newest (143rd) Peace Corps program. The program welcomed its first group of volunteers in October 2023. Dr. Grant served as Peace Corps Country Director in Kosovo from 2015 to 2019, and as Country Director in Mongolia from 2012 to 2015. From 2009-2011, she took a leave of absence from her tenured faculty position to serve in Cambodia’s 3rd Peace Corps Volunteer cohort as a TEFL English Teacher and Teacher Trainer. After 10-years of social work practice in domestic violence shelters, drug rehab, and adolescent and adult psychiatric hospital facilities, Dr. Grant worked for 18-years as a professor of Social Work at the University of Texas at Austin. There she also served for five years as Associate Dean in the Office of Graduate Studies, overseeing university-wide recruitment for over 200 graduate degree programs. In this position she managed a multi-million-dollar fellowship program, mandated with increasing the racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic diversity in graduate degree programs. Dr. Grant taught graduate and undergraduate courses in social justice, clinical practice, research methodology, working with women with addiction and criminal justice involvement and at-risk youth. She has authored dozens of journal articles and book chapters. Dr. Grant was named 2006 Social Worker of the Year by the National Association of Social Workers.