How You Can Defy Expectations By Joining The Peace Corps After Age 50

In my book "Disrupt Aging" I talk about the concept of encore careers in reference to people age 50-plus who, after having concluded their "first" career, embark on a new one -- an encore career -- which is frequently one that encompasses some form of social impact.


Encore careers represent a fresh, new approach to the old "you-work-and-then-you-retire" paradigm and focus on the notion that maybe we're happier and more fulfilled if we think less about having freedom from work and more about having the freedom to work; less about accumulating income and more about also accumulating fulfillment by doing something you really care about - or perhaps doing something you've done for years, but doing it in a new place.


While it's clearly not a fit for everyone, one example is the rising incidence of people 50-plus joining the Peace Corps. Since it was established by President John F. Kennedy in 1961, Peace Corps volunteers have worked at grassroots levels in education, health, economic development, agriculture, environment and youth development in more than 140 nations.


But surely Peace Corps volunteers are all about 25, right? Well, actually, no.

The Peace Corps has no maximum-age cutoff and, in fact, seven percent of its current 7,000 volunteers are over the age of 50 -- and they're seeking more 50-plus volunteers. As one U.S. Peace Corps official recently said, "Older Peace Corps volunteers defy expectations of age to offer a worldly perspective through their service overseas. As they embark on the next chapter of their lives, they possess a wealth of life and professional experience that becomes a vital asset in connecting with their host communities and fellow volunteers."


Need some inspiration or real-life examples?


Take a look at recent retiree Susan Schneider. She was just 11-years-old when President Kennedy founded the Peace Corps and now, at 65, she's achieving her childhood dream of becoming a volunteer. Susan will teach English in Tanzania and has spent more than a year preparing for service by learning Swahili and teaching English to refugees in her hometown.

Or there's Alice Carter who last year, at the age of 86, embarked on a Peace Corps deployment to Morocco and is still serving there. Alice and Susan are just two of approximately 500 U.S. Peace Corps volunteers over the age of 50 currently serving around the world. We'll be covering Alice, Susan and other 50-plus Peace Corps volunteers in greater detail in a future issue of AARP Bulletin but I wanted to mention them in this column as examples of people 50-plus (sometimes way plus) taking bold steps to Disrupt Aging.


Whether teaching English in the Philippines, creating libraries in Uganda, or any of the other vital projects in which Peace Corps volunteers are engaged in Africa, Latin America, Asia, Eastern Europe, The Caribbean, North Africa, the Middle East and the Pacific Islands, older Peace Corps volunteers like Alice, Susan and many hundreds of others have established a very significant presence in communities around the globe.


Your own encore career might be something closer to home but wherever you choose to embark on it -- whether down the street or on the other side of the world -- the idea is that staying active is the key to living a life of possibility, connection, and growth. Disrupt Aging!

About the author:
Jo Ann Jenkins is CEO of AARP. Jenkins's debut book,
is published by NYC-based Public Affairs.

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