In June 2019, I flew to China with 72 other Americans, trained in Chengdu for 10 weeks and became a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) on Aug. 22. That same day, after a six-hour journey, I arrived in beautiful Liupanshui to teach English at the local university.

Since President Kennedy established the Peace Corps, more than 10,000 Washingtonians have volunteered to meet each host country’s need for trained individuals, promote a better understanding of Americans overseas, and a better understanding of the host country back in the U.S. Sometimes, a PCV is a community’s first encounter with an American. This was the case with my first-year students; together we shared our cultures and broke down barriers. Back home in Renton, I reflect on how my students helped improve my teaching and language skills.

I wish I could have fulfilled my two-year assignment, but earlier this year all PCVs were evacuated due to COVID-19. Stateside, many former volunteers are serving domestically and applying their skills to the current crisis. Looking ahead, PCVs will be needed to bridge the divide created by fear and global distrust. Many evacuees stand ready to resume their missions when host countries are ready to receive them again.

Jerome Siangco, Renton