Interview SummaryJoshua (Josh) Lustig served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Cabo Verde in the Education program from 2009-2011. Josh was born and raised in Montgomery Village, Maryland. He attended community college in Maryland and completed an undergraduate degree in journalism and political science at the University of Maryland. While job searching, he attended many campus recruitment fairs, where he noticed Peace Corps always had a booth. He found himself spending most of his time listening to stories of the RPCV (Returned Peace Corps Volunteer) recruiters who were passionate about their experiences. They had something that Josh wanted. Also, Peace Corps service offered him a welcome opportunity for some student loan relief.
So, after college, Josh applied to Peace Corps and was offered an assignment in the Republic of Cameroon. Unfortunately, he had to withdraw because of an ACL injury. He then took different jobs in the U.S., including working in political campaigns in Oregon in 2008. While there, he heard President Barack Obama’s appeal to young people to give back through Peace Corps service. Josh said that President Obama’s Hyde Park speech motivated him to reapply to Peace Corps because “it gave me the push I needed.” This time, Peace Corps offered him an assignment in an Education program in Cabo Verde (Cape Verde), a 10-island archipelago and country in the central Atlantic Ocean west of Senegal, Africa. Historically, Cabo Verde has very strong connections with Portugal and with the United States, especially Massachusetts, going back to the whaling days.
After three days of pre-service orientation in Boston, Josh’s training group of 20 traveled to Praia, the capital of Cabo Verde. Praia is located on Santiago, Cabo Verde’s largest island where more than half the country’s population lives. From Praia, the trainees traveled to the city of Assomada, in central Santiago, for their 3-month training and homestay.
The training focused primarily on language (Kriolu) and was scheduled daily for small groups of 2-3 new volunteers. Once a week, the full training group of 20 met together for classes in culture, history, food, and survival skills like medical care. During training, Josh stayed with a Cabo Verdean woman and her 7-year-old daughter. Josh credits his host family sister with teaching him Kriolu and everything else he needed to know about how to be a Cabo Verdean.
Josh was assigned to teach high school English in Mosteiros County on the island of Fogo, west of Santiago. Local lore has it that Portuguese sailors named the island Fogo (“fire”) because they could see flames from its volcano as they passed by on their way to the Caribbean or Brazil.
Josh lived in Igreja where the Mosteiros County high school was located. He taught seventh – tenth grade English for two years. The class size was 20-40 coed students, with more students in lower and fewer in higher grades. Teachers followed the Cabo Verde academic curriculum and could develop their own lesson plans for practical applications. Teaching materials were a chalkboard and one notepad per student. In summer, students returned to their villages or went to Santiago.
His experience in summers reflected the local socioeconomic profile. Because his county had high unemployment, most adults had left to find work abroad; most adults from his town lived in America, primarily in Boston, Massachusetts. They sent back remittances to their local Cabo Verdean community. Josh noticed that local people were rich if they received remittances but poor if they didn’t.
As a result, Josh’s summers were quiet. He recalls having time to read, visit and play chess with a few close Cabo Verdean friends, and enjoy the solitude. His first summer, he studied for the U.S. Department of State Foreign Service test. The second summer, he ran a summer journalism project for those in town.
Overall, Josh enjoyed living a very simple life in his town. Other than occasional bus trips to visit PCVs, he didn’t travel much because travel from Fogo, a satellite island, first required a dangerous 10-hour ferry ride to a bigger island and then more expense to travel from there to his final destination. As his two-year Peace Corps assignment was ending, Josh was planning his next step. Looking back, Josh realizes that Peace Corps was the most important professional experience in his life. He is a person who needs to do something first to know more about it, and his immersive Peace Corps experience in Cabo Verde gave him just that.
So, when Josh heard that the U.S. Embassy in Praia, Santiago was hosting the Department of State Foreign Service test for all of West Africa, he signed up. He passed the exam and was accepted into the Foreign Service starting six weeks after he completed his Peace Corps service in Cabo Verde. Josh currently lives with his wife and baby daughter in South Korea, where he serves as a Foreign Service/Public Diplomacy Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, South Korea. His responsibilities include outreach and encouragement to youth to engage in international affairs. His goalnis to increase the diversity of opportunities in foreign affairs for youth from all backgrounds. He regularly introduces his audiences to opportunities in international service programs such as Peace Corps, especially for those whose families don’t have the means for international education or a tradition of international service.
Josh highlights these benefits of Peace Corps service to his audiences: • Safety • Well-organized • Training provided • Full immersive experience • Introduction to totally new environments, especially small and off the radar of international development/international business. Josh reflected that his Peace Corps service was one of those very rare key moments of his life that determined its entire direction. He calls it “…a core experience in my life that has led me to continue working abroad ever since with the U. S. State Department.”