Seniors in the Peace Corps: an Interview With Muriel Johnston

by Audrey Scott Mar 7, 2009

“The [Peace Corps] application process has been a challenge, but it has given me an opportunity to examine my life and future goals.” – Muriel Johnston

Muriel Johnston

At 84 years old, Muriel Johnston is not your average Peace Corps applicant.

She’s beginning her Peace Corps service this spring in Morocco with a lifetime of achievements and experience to share with her host country and fellow Peace Corps colleagues.

Yet she’s just as focused on what this adventure will teach her and how it will enrich her life.

I had some difficulty tracking down Muriel for this e-mail interview; she was traveling around South Africa for a few weeks. Upon returning home, she kindly took time out of her final week before departure to answer a few questions.

What first attracted you to the Peace Corps? And made you decide to serve for two-plus years as a Peace Corps volunteer at this time in your life?

When I learned the Peace Corps had a special office for 50+ volunteers and that age was not a deterrent, I called the 50+ Office in Washington, D.C. for particulars. I was intrigued by the opportunity to add more meaning to my life.

Why do you feel that the Peace Corps is reaching out to attract more mature volunteers? What do you think more mature volunteers offer Peace Corps and the host country?

I feel that the Peace Corps is working on presenting a more balanced picture of American culture by including a greater variety of its citizens. Mature volunteers can offer the “getting along” skills they’ve developed as well as experience with negotiation and compromise to members of the host country and to traditional volunteers.

Passing Peace Corps’ medical exams is no small feat for people of every age – congratulations! Does Peace Corps make special arrangements for mature volunteers once they are in-country?

The Peace Corps is very careful of its volunteers, regardless of age, in every aspect of life in-country. Safety and health concerns are paramount. Attention to special requirements demanded by local customs is emphasized. For instance, the drinking of alcohol is a taboo, and modest dress and behavior is required.

What will your work as a Peace Corps volunteer entail?

My assignment as a Peace Corps volunteer has not been defined precisely. The title given to me is “Health Educator,” and my understanding of the job description is basically mothering, i.e. stressing good personal hygiene, encouraging better sanitary practices, and observing preventive measures for good health. A “glorified” mother, indeed!

Moroccan children. Photo by jfgornet

Peace Corps’ goals are as much about learning about the host country and yourself as they are about sharing your knowledge and experience. What do you hope to learn and bring home from this experience?

Learning more about other countries dissolves some of the mysteries surrounding foreign cultures. I believe helping to eliminate this mystery will encourage peaceful solutions. Sharing my experiences with my circle of family and friends will enable them to better understand that the challenges others face are similar to our own.

How does your family feel about your decision to join Peace Corps?

My family has been supportive of my decision to join the Peace Corps. Of course there have been some reservations about my being so far away, but there is always e-mail. Some family members are already planning visits to Morocco.

Anything else you’d like to share or add?

The amazing response of family, friends and acquaintances to my decision to join the Peace Corps has been overwhelming and encouraging. I’m sure all the good wishes I’ve received will help sustain me for the 27-month commitment.

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