Acculturation in International Development: The Peace Corps in Costa Rica
University of Kansas
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In its thirty years of service, the Peace Corps has acquired a well founded international reputation for successful grassroots development assistance through the unpretentious lifestyle of American individuals living and working in a single community. Clouding this success is the high rate of early terminations of trained volunteers, which not only causes financial loss to the organization, but also questions the ability of American volunteers to successfully transplant into another culture. This study determines the loss of volunteers to be a symptom of unsuccessful bicultural acculturation. Detailed case histories show that all volunteers undergo a sequence of preparation, cross-cultural contact, conflict, adaptation, and separation, whereby the stages of contact conflict- adaptation repeat with each contact. The choice of adaptation strategy of the successful volunteer varies with the area of conflict; conflict in the professional area induces adjustment, while conflict in the social area causes reaction or withdrawal. The unsuccessful volunteer is one who has been placed succeeding another, feels overwhelmed by the expectations of the community, and has low social language skills. This individual cannot adjust successfully in either area and sees withdrawal and separation as the only solution. The results of this study suggest that more volunteers could be retained by raising their professional satisfaction, improving social language skills, and by placing volunteers into communities without a recent volunteer. This study follows fifteen volunteers of the Peace Corps through their service experience in Costa Rica. They entered training in November 1990 and were scheduled to serve from February 1991 to January 1993. The group consisted of six women and nine men, ranging in age from 23 to 69 years. The volunteers were interviewed and tested before and during training, during the first six months of service, after one year, and shortly before they left Costa Rica.
The University of Kansas has long historical connections with Central America and the many Central Americans who have earned graduate degrees at KU. This work is part of the Central American Theses and Dissertations collection in KU ScholarWorks and is being made freely available with permission of the author through the efforts of Professor Emeritus Charles Stansifer of the History department and the staff of the Scholarly Communications program at the University of Kansas Libraries’ Center for Digital Scholarship.
Items in KU ScholarWorks are protected by copyright, with all rights reserved, unless otherwise indicated.
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