Interview with Peace Corps recruiter Mychal Castro

The Clackamas Print had the pleasure of meeting with Mychal Castro, a Peace Corps recruiter, over Zoom. Castro shared general information about the Peace Corps as well as his own unique experiences, serving in Costa Rica, participating in a pride event there, as well as his process of joining the organization.   

The Clackamas Print

How does one go about joining the Peace Corps?

Mychal Castro

Anyone can really serve in the Peace Corps, there’s only two requirements, and that’s being 18 years old and having proof of your citizenship. I should say, though, that there are people that are more competitive to serve in the Peace Corps, and oftentimes those people have a bachelor’s degree, or even higher education than that. If they don’t necessarily have those requirements, they have five years of professional experience related to a position that they see themselves serving. We are a peacemaking organization, we were actually founded by JFK. It was one of the first executive orders that he did as the new president of the United States to promote peace and friendship, that was 60 years ago. We continue to serve in countries all around the world in different programs, such as agriculture, environment, human development; I was in community economic development. In terms of getting into the service, you do apply. Some people work through a recruiter to apply for Peace Corps, other people don’t. I didn’t work with a recruiter, but I went to recruitment events, talked to returning volunteers and asked them, “what happened to you? What was your experience?” It was really their stories that compelled me to apply and kind of have my own story a little bit. It took me about a year from when I applied to when I left. That’s pretty standard, that you would want to apply nine to 12 months before you leave. But through that whole process, you submit your application, you interview, you do some clearances. Towards the end, you get this plane ticket from the Peace Corps and the New Board, and you serve other Americans in the United States.

TCP

Where have you served in the Peace Corps?

Castro

I served in Costa Rica in Community Economic Development. So there are different programs, there’s agriculture, environment, community economic development, and youth development. You also do secondary projects, and that means that those projects can be aligned with your passions. My friend that served with me, she actually started a photography club. And that’s just work that she did in addition to what she was doing day to day. It’s not really like a normal job. We are called volunteers, but we work 24/7 for two years abroad, and we develop all these different competencies when it comes to language and cultural skills. They used to say it’s the hardest job that you’ll ever love, and that is still the case. Actually, it’s a hard job, but you just learn to love the adversity as well.

TCP

Did you have any experience traveling outside of the US prior to joining?

Castro

I’m what you call a second generation Mexican American. So that’s to say that my parents were born here, but my grandparents immigrated from Mexico. We are not a family that travels, we don’t go to like all these exotic places. I really wanted to go out there and see people that are different. I want to hear different stories, different experiences. And so I really thought that that was important. The Peace Corps was this intense experience of doing all that.

TCP

What was it like to experience a pride event in Costa Rica?

Castro

We kind of have this American bubble, and once you actually start getting out into the world, that bubble tends to burst a little bit, you find yourself a little bit more uncomfortable. I was in Costa Rica at a time that was very interesting, because on the ballot was same sex marriage, and that was very controversial for Costa Rica. If you look at Latin America as a whole, there’s some things that are moving towards progression and human rights. The problem is that there’s just some things within the culture, such as machismo, and the history of the Catholic Church and their stance on this issue. So I had some anxiety about that, because it’s like, oh, that’s going to be relevant to me, who I am as a person. So I navigated that a little differently than I would here at home. But it was very liberating to see that event happen, because of what was happening within the country, but also because the Peace Corps provided this space and opportunity to participate, knowing very well that it’s not widely accepted all across the country. We bring ourselves to service, and those situations are going to involve presenting yourself in a way that is mindful of the culture; But, also, I want to say authentic. I’m really happy that I had that experience. It was probably the first time I ever got to celebrate a culture, and LGBT culture that wasn’t just here in the States, but was international. It’s wonderful to see now that same sex marriage is legal in Costa Rica, and they still have some work to do; but, at the same time, it wasn’t too long ago that it wasn’t legal here in the United States. It just gives me hope for other countries in Central America, that they make that movement.

TCP

What were some of the hardships of serving in the Peace Corps during the pandemic?

Castro

So I actually did not serve in the pandemic. I was what you would call an evacuee, which is to say that I was in service and I came back home. That’s really the first time that this has happened on a global scale, with the COVID pandemic, all volunteers that were serving came back home. And so what happened in regards to my story was that I served, and I was really kind of trying to figure out my next move, I was applying for jobs. We’re still in this economic situation where the job market hasn’t fully recovered. The interesting thing is I had a friend of mine that was a recruiter, and he had asked me if I would feel comfortable sharing my story. I was like, “Well, what else am I gonna be doing?” I could be at home all day, I might as well like talking about my experience. So I started sharing my story, and he got me involved with some other recruitment events, to the point where I eventually got on a roster of people that were eligible to work for the Peace Corps. So I put my name in the hat, and then they said, “We’d like to interview you to be a recruiter,” and then here I am, now I recruit people. But I like to say that my job is really kind of sharing the Peace Corps story and my story, specifically. 

TCP

How did you feel when you had to go home early?

Castro

It’s definitely a tough thing. Luckily, I belong to a network of volunteers, there have been 240,000 people that have served since JFK signed that executive order, and what was really beneficial was just keeping in contact with the volunteers I served with. Also, other people that had had maybe a similar experience or completely different experience, it depends. It was kind of the height of the pandemic, everybody’s just going through a lot, and like the Return Peace Corps Volunteer community stepped up. They did these sessions on career development, (they) hosted these events on wellness, and made sure people were checking in with each other. And this was across the board. The point is that, at a time when I felt like I really needed people, or something to lean on, it wasn’t really my college. That was the resource to me. It wasn’t even my old jobs, like my old co-workers that were a resource to me, it was really the return volunteers. So I’m really lucky that I’m a part of this network. And I’m lucky that I can probably go to different states and find other people that are the same mindset as me. So I think that’s a really wonderful thing because you need to find your tribe as you develop as a person.

TCP

Did you get to pick Costa Rica? Or did they just assign it to you?

Castro

I applied directly to Costa Rica, because my program was Community Economic Development. Some people apply when needed most. And that’s a beautiful thing, too, because there’s just this openness to go anywhere. The Peace Corps will look at your experience and try to figure out where they can be in the middle between what your experience and skills are and what is going to be departing and everything. 

TCP

What was it like working for Disney?

Castro

That was a really great experience, and I think about the Disney organization and how it really set me up for a lot of things. I will say that Disney, as an organization, is really about those American ideals, right? I love that there’s something that really takes our Americanism and idolizes and makes it magical. The reality is though, it’s not reflective of the world that we live in, where you have disparity, where you have conditions of hardship, where you have people that don’t get to experience that magic. It’s just made me very aware that what I thought was cultural competency was actually maybe disillusionment. I thought that I knew the world because the world came to me, and that was not the case. I went into the world and the world really gave me a lesson, it kind of shook me up a bit, but it really helped a lot. So now when I feel like when I want to go into space, I’m more cognizant of the people that I work with, whether those people are Asian or Latinx. Or maybe they come from conditions of hardship, I want to be very aware of that and work intentionally with that. When I was working at Disney that never even came to mind. You know, it’s all pixie dust.