PCMI Student Peter Garrison in Ethiopia
PCMI Student Peter Garrison in Ethiopia

Grad School or Peace Corps? Why not do both?

A student may combine a degree in any one of our five M.A. programs — Creative Nonfiction, English Education, Literature, Rhetoric and Composition, or TEFL/TESL — with the Peace Corps Masters International (PCMI) degree at Colorado State University. Colorado State University is one of the few English Departments in the country to offer this unique program.

At a recent presentation, Professor Ellen Brinks, Peace Corps Master’s International program liaison for the English department, and Aaron Carlile, an MA Literature student who just returned from his Peace Corp assignment in China, talked about the PCMI program at CSU to a group of interested students. Students who attended the session had various reasons for coming: being super excited that such a program existed, wanting to do both the Peace Corp and complete a Master’s degree at the same time, interest in being part of the human community, desire to do meaningful work, and even coming because their advisor had recommended it.

Professor Ellen Brinks and PCMI (MA Literature) student Aaron Carlile

Professor Brinks summarized some of the benefits of the program this way:

  • You get to be in the Peace Corps while also doing academic work and completing an MA, melding the two together
  • Various financial perks — such as round trip travel, a stipend, medical and dental, transition funds, deferral of student loans,
  • Learning a new language, cultural immersion
  • Access to federal jobs upon return and help with job searches, which opens up a range of careers that might not be possible without this particular experience

Professor Brinks summed it up by saying that that while it’s inherently rewarding to be in the Peace Corps all by itself, there’s a wonderful compatibility between academic work and Peace Corps work. Through the PCMI students experience “a fusion of scholarly and service work … deeply rooted in community.”

Aaron Carlile echoed Ellen’s summary, explaining that PCMI students take the abstracts of learning and apply them in a way that’s meaningful and personally gratifying, while also taking part in international development and cultural exchange. His first three months he lived with a host family, went through language and cultural immersion, and learned to speak Chinese before starting his assignment. He then taught English at a college, and also started a literary club. He talked about how his initial plan was to go to Eastern Europe, that there was a particular literary movement he wanted to study and write about, but when he was placed in China it shifted his whole perspective, in the best possible way.

Aaron shared some slides about where in the world Peace Corps volunteers work and what sorts of assignments they receive.



volunteers work in

Aaron summed up his own experience with the PCMI this way: He was initially completely out of his element, but had a lot of support and found his way. He landed on his feet and gained a lot of confidence from the experience.

To learn more, check out our PCMI page, where you can find out more about the specific of the program and what other students have to say about their experiences with it.

Update: Sadly, in 2016 the Peace Corps made the difficult decision to phase out the Master’s International program and focus on other strategic partnership opportunities. Read more here: https://www.peacecorps.gov/volunteer/university-programs/masters-international/