Peace Corps Writers
Talking with John Bidwell (page 5)
 Talking with
John Bidwell
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Would you be available (for hire) to help an RPCV writer branding their book?

Sure, I’m always free to chat on the phone, though most writers find it more affordable to simply follow good advice on their own.

What Peace Corps books have you read and liked [or disliked!]?

These are just a few that stand out:

The Village of Waiting by George Packer (Togo 1982–83)
Good, but I found it somewhat negative. George had a different experience than I did in West Africa.

Living Poor: A Peace Corps Chronicle by Moritz Thomsen (Ecuador 1965–67)
Old school classic.

Fishing in the Sky: The Education of Namory Keita by Donald Lawder (Mali 1983–85) It’s about Mali and I knew Donald.

River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze by Peter Hessler (China 1996–98)
New school classic.

Monique and the Mango Rains by Kris Holloway (Mali 1989–91)
Hey, I’m biased, but I’m not alone in my accolades.

The Peace Corps agency is continually reinventing itself. For a long while they used the line “toughest job you’ll ever love,” more recently they talked about “not your father’s Peace Corps” (which seemed to be a veiled dig at early Volunteers). Now they are pushing for retirees to volunteer. Looking at their website and promotional materials, what do you think they are doing right, or wrong to sell themselves to this generation of new Volunteers?

The Peace Corps might be continually reinventing itself internally, but that is not visible to outsiders. In fact, most people know too little about Peace Corps. I run into people who are surprised Peace Corps still exists. That’s a shame since I believe the Peace Corps is a miracle. There is not a single government agency that does so much with so little.
     In terms of messaging, I prefer when the Peace Corps presents itself as a challenge — because it is true — but it is a challenge with unparalleled rewards. That is why “The toughest job you’ll ever love” works so well. It is also why I like the new “Life is Calling. How far will you go?” campaign. There have been messaging flops, such as the unoriginal and ambiguous “Not your father’s Peace Corp” campaign, but that seems the exception.
More and more, the Peace Corps must consider competition. The Peace Corps’ biggest advantage, though, is that it is the original. The fact that a lot of competition bills itself as the “Peace Corps alternative” underscores Peace Corps strong position.
Most of their messaging is successful because there is so much to work with: they are first in their field, they offer an incredible growth experience, they help others, and they polish our country’s reputation.
Again, it is increasing awareness of Peace Corps that is most important. Peace Corps has no shortage of interesting stories; they just have to get them circulating. I want to see more of a Peace Corps presence on YouTube, Facebook, MySpace, and in blogs. I want to see bigger events at schools. I don’t just mean events geared towards students, but taking advantage of programs geared towards alums, such as the Institute for Lifelong Education at Dartmouth (ILIAD). Peace Corps needs advertising to remind people they are still around, but it is the personal stories that will bring in candidates.

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