Published: Feb. 8, 2024

pamela civinsPamela Civins (CU Boulder ENGL ’86, School for International Training (SIT) ‘99, Harvard ‘03)

Pamela Civins brings extensive experience to her current role as CU-Boulder’s Peace Corps Strategic Campus Recruiter. She is a returned Peace Corps volunteer who served in Nepal, working as a teacher and teacher trainer. She has spent over 20 years in leadership roles in education and mentoring nonprofits, and she credits her experience in the Peace Corps with helping her discover her professional passions. Her professional goals include developing the next generation of leaders.

What is your favorite memory from CU, either from your undergraduate experience or in your current role as CU’s Peace Corps Recruiter?

One of my favorite things about CU Boulder is the beauty of the campus. As an undergraduate student, a lot of my time was spent around the quad near Norlin Library. Being around that area brought a peacefulness to me. I was usually rushing from classes and then to my job on the Pearl Street Mall. I also remember enjoying time with friends on the University Memorial Center (UMC) patio. The view of the Flatirons from there was and is amazing!

Having grown up in Boulder, including attending Boulder High School and CU Boulder, I took the mountains and nature around me for granted. Now, being back in Boulder and on campus, I appreciate everything surrounding us even more today.

Can you share the specific moment or experience that led you to apply for the Peace Corps?

I did not apply to the Peace Corps right away. It took me three years after I graduated to submit my application. I carried the Peace Corps packet everywhere I lived during those three years. I tried big city life, moving to San Franscisco. I spent time in Southern Europe, to make sure I liked traveling and that I enjoyed experiencing other cultures. I spent time in Florida, living with my grandmother. 

When I was with my grandma, I mentioned I wanted to join the Peace Corps, but that I was a little worried about being away from her and others in my family for two plus years. She had just turned 80 years old and was a woman who always did what she thought she should do, and not what she wanted to do in life. She told me that I was young and that I should do what I wanted to do in life. She gave me the permission I needed to go for it. I applied while I was at her house and had my interview (then in person) in Miami.

Your Peace Corps experience in Nepal involved teaching English and training other teachers. What challenges did you encounter, and how did you overcome them?young american woman dancing while in Nepal in the 1990s

We had three months of training in Nepali language, culture and in classroom teaching. It was a crash course in everything related to Nepal. Going to my post, I was nervous and worried about a lot of things – could I teach in a classroom; would my colleagues at the school want me, an American, to be there; would the family I chose to live with like me; and would I like them. Everything was challenging the first few months in my village and at my school. I was learning and doing at the same time. One of my classes, 60 third graders in a little room, had a lot of energy. I had a 35-student fifth grade class that had always learned by rote, and trying to interject some creative activities was a challenge.

Somehow it got easier as I settled in with my family and got to know my community better. People were patient with me and helped me with my Nepali. My Nepali language guru was the three-year-old in my household. She let me know when I made a mistake, but she also seemed to understand me better than others!

By my second year, I could speak the language and I really enjoyed creating and facilitating teacher training, on my own and with a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer. When my time in Peace Corps ended, I decided I wanted to pursue a master’s degree focused on training, which is why I chose to attend the School for International Training in Brattleboro, Vermont.

How did you adapt to the local culture and community during your time in the Peace Corps?

I adapted to the local culture and community by taking time to observe what was around me, and I really relied on my Nepali family. My family members were always honest with me. For example, one time I wanted to wear blue jeans outside of their compound, but they let me know that while it was acceptable in Kathmandu, it was not good in the village. I never wore pants outside of our house. I wore kurta surwal, a type of Nepali clothing mostly young, unmarried women wore. We had a local tailor come to the house and I ordered five outfits. It was an opportunity to bond with my family.

What skills or qualities did you develop that you find valuable in your current or future career?

I credit my experience as a Peace Corps volunteer with helping me develop patience, with being flexible, with rolling with whatever comes along. I became a better listener. I became less afraid of talking with people I didn’t know. I became more creative. So many things… I use all these skills today and have used them in all the jobs I’ve had, including being an Executive Director, and leading a Boston nonprofit organization for over a decade.

As I described above, I learned that I loved designing and facilitating training. It was fun creating sessions for Nepali teachers. It really paved my career path. I realized I didn’t want to be a classroom teacher, but I knew I still wanted to help people learn. In fact, about nine months after my service was over, I ended up back in Nepal, training incoming volunteers who were going to teach English as a Second Language. In graduate school, I did a practicum (a full-time job!) in Nepal as a women’s literacy program coordinator with the international nonprofit World Education. I got the job in part because I spoke Nepali!

Since completing your service, how has your Peace Corps experience influenced your life?

I completed my service 30 years ago, and I can remember much of that time like it was yesterday. Two years in my village gave me time to get to know myself and helped me become more open to new experiences. I became less afraid of what I didn’t know.  I made lifelong friends with whom I have shared happy and sad times together. My time in the Peace Corps had a profound impact on the person I am today.

I came back to CU Boulder to recruit future Peace Corps volunteers because, as my wife often tells me, I am a walking and talking Peace Corps advertisement. I feel like I’ve come full circle, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to share more about the Peace Corps with a new generation of CU Boulder students.

What advice do you have for individuals considering joining the Peace Corps?

I always encourage individuals who are thinking about joining the Peace Corps to be flexible about where they serve and the work they do. Be ready and be open to learning a lot about themselves. I also let people know that a lot of the work they do in the Peace Corps will be to build relationships with others. Don’t worry if at times, one’s job seems to move slowly. In the end, you may discover that through the Peace Corps experience, your own personal growth and learning often surpasses what you contribute.

Finally, don’t be afraid to apply and to explore new opportunities like the Peace Corps! The benefits are many and may impact you throughout your life.

What are some upcoming Peace Corps events that CU students or alumni should know about? How can people get in touch with you or learn more about the Peace Corps?

I have a few virtual events coming up, including an:

On March 13, 2024, at 5 p.m., thanks to IAFS and other programs, we will be bringing the documentary “A Towering Task: The Story of the Peace Corps” to the CU Boulder campus. We look forward to welcoming the producer/director, Alana DeJoseph, to the event. More detailed information will be announced soon.

I’m always happy to talk with folks, so please reach out to me at any time to set up a meeting.