by Samantha Cookinham and Meredith Hessel
Washington Post Contributor Bren Flanigan feels that the importance of the Peace Corps’ role in public diplomacy is forgotten with the budget cuts that President Trump proposed in the spring.*
Flanigan finds he, along with others in the Peace Corps are cultural ambassadors for the country showing interest in other cultures, showing the truth about American culture and showing a memorable impression of America.
While in Benin, he found that food was key to sharing culture. He cooked pizza for his host
family and celebrated the Fourth of July with A1 steak sauce and the Whitney Houston version
of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
These interactions helped with cultural diplomacy by “addressing questions like these gives Peace Corps volunteers the opportunity to shatter the stereotypes about the United States portrayed in television and movies.” Flanigan wants to influence societies not solely through intimidation or economic isolation, but through integrated cultural exchange because this will “endure through political administrations and fluctuating diplomatic relations.”
Soft power may be difficult to measure, but it is effective because it is memorable and able to
shatter stereotypes about America. These cultural exchanges are necessary to share diplomatic
relations through experience and genuine interest in cultures and traditions. People in the Peace
Corps are cultural ambassadors.* Flanigan’s reflection that Peace Corps volunteers are “for many communities… the real American ambassadors, the only ones they will ever meet, and the only ones they will remember.” This is similar to how Flanigan was welcomed by his host family in Benin with questions about the 2016 election. Their questions showed that they were looking for a refreshing first-hand account of what Americans think and if they agree with the rhetoric of the
Further, this emphasizes the importance of face-to-face or person-to-person public
diplomacy, as Peace Corps volunteers represent America and are “direct extensions of American
values and principles.” In all, Peace Corps volunteers strengthen an understanding of people and
cultural values between the U.S. and the country they are volunteering in.
* The Peace Corps “is a service opportunity for motivated changemakers to immerse themselves
in a community abroad, working side by side with local leaders to tackle the most pressing
challenges of generation[s].” As an independent agency within the executive branch that was
established by President John F. Kennedy through an Executive Order in 1961, the Peace Corps’
mission is to promote global world peace and friendship. The President appoints the Peace
Corps’ director and deputy director and the appointments must be confirmed by the Senate. As
an agency, it has bipartisan support in Congress, as both Democrats and Republicans and even
representatives and senators have served as volunteers. The Peace Corps’ budget is 1% of the
foreign operations budget and the annual budget is determined each year by the congressional budget and appropriations process.
You can learn more about the Peace Corps’ leadership and initiatives at https://www.peacecorps.gov.
*Bren Flanigan contributed to the Washington Post’s Global Opinions section on August 31
the-peace-corps-in-u-s-foreign-policy/?utm_term=.df698d912f8f) with his insights from serving
as a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer in Benin.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author(s). They do not necessarily express the views of either The Institute of Public Diplomacy and Global Communication or The George Washington University.