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February 6, 2011

My U.S. Peace Corps Application

My Company's Logo for 27 Months (Schwary)
Deciding to apply to the U.S. Peace Corps is one of the best decisions I ever made.  The entire process, from application to integration, from learning Spanish to understanding a foreign culture, from gaining a deeper perspective on life to learning how to more fully enjoy the little things; all that I learned from my experience as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer has benefited every aspect of my life, since I joined, and since my return.
Traveling in Southeast Asia for over six months can make someone quite nostalgic. It forces you to reflect on your past, examine your present and plan for your future. As part of that process, I've often reflected on my experience as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer.  Every day that passes since the moment I decided to apply back in 2001, just days after September 11th, to the current present, I’ve pat myself on the back for doing so.  Unpopular it may have been to many at the time, I was confident in myself that it was going to be one of the best decisions I had ever made. However, only time was going to tell, and fortunately, only time has told, that it truly was one of the best decisions I had ever made.
Like every journey, there’s a beginning. Like every journey, there’s a first step. This application for the U.S. Peace Corps was the fist step in a journey that exceeded my wildest expectations, from the day I applied up to very second I write this in.
Be forewarned! The majority of these responses in this application may come across a bit cheesy, but it seems to me that most responses to the things that matter most in life have a perfectly wonderful way of working out that way.  Don't think about it, just take my word for it.
So, here it goes...
United States Peace Corps Application:
My process of adapting cross culturally has been a life long process.  From the time I was born to this very moment, my life has been a string of consecutive circumstances that has provided me experience into the different cultures, ideas and attitudes that have enabled me to be open minded towards my culture and the different cultures of the world.  
Growing up in Santa Ana, California, I attended St. Jean de Lestenoc, a private catholic grammar school.  The school was run by Nuns from Mexico where Spanish was a required course throughout the curriculum.  Cinco de Mayo festivals were a yearly ritual where the entire student body and their respective family and friends would help celebrate an important victory enjoyed by Mexico.  I remember to this day asking my 2nd grade teacher, Sister Mary of Jesus, why it was that we were celebrating this victory and her response was, “in a similar way in which we as Americans celebrate the 4th of July is why the Mexican culture celebrates Cinco de Mayo.”  At that point I was able to understand the important meaning to the Mexican culture and in turn I was able to take part in the joy the Mexican culture felt.  I realized that it didn’t matter if it was something that I as an American enjoyed for any particular benefit from what was being celebrated, rather it was a point of view celebrated by an entire group of people that I lived with on a daily basis that I could respect.  I learned that respecting a culture that I shared a part of my life with was a benefit to me just by being open minded and accepting.
As life moved on, so did I.  During my fist year at a new Jr. High School I became best friends with a person named Dan Feder.  From after school Football practice to trading baseball cards, Dan and I spent an amazing amount of time together.  During this time period in my life I was attending CCD classes in preparation for my Holy Confirmation, yet when Dan asked me if I would like to participate in Passover with him and his family I gladly accepted the opportunity to celebrate in what it was that he found important.  Regardless of my current situation in studying to become a confirmed Catholic I relished in the experience of celebrating one of the most holy Jewish day’s of my best friend’s life.  That day was truly special to me.  I felt like I was given the unique opportunity to celebrate in something that was so important in a culture I knew relatively little about.  The way in which the family shared the tradition with me was something I will never forget.  Once again, I took a deep delight in sharing the love and perspective of a culture that I wasn’t familiar with.  I was open to sharing and enjoying a wonderful day that was culturally different from my own.  Dan and I are still great friends!
As I moved on to High School I took part of a student body that was as culturally diverse as the state of California.  The people I befriended represented a tapestry of different cultures and nationalities.  From Chinese to African American, from Mexican to Indian, my friends were as diverse as I was.  Whether it was going over to my friend, Chalton Yu’s house and having to take off my shoes before I entered his house, as this is a common practice for many Chinese Americans, to knowing that my Indian friend, Jeff Ackaria, didn’t eat during sunlight hours during his observation of Ramadan.  My friends were culturally, politically and socially diverse.  At the time I had the feeling that all parts of America were the same.  However, that outlook was soon to change.
Going to college on the East Cost was an amazing experience.  For the fist time I was separated from my family on a long-term basis.  I enjoyed the opportunity to broaden my horizons on so many different levels.  However, one thing I soon realized was that the student body was not culturally diverse.  In fact, the people that I was primarily surrounded by had grown up in neighborhoods that were ethnically, monetarily, and socially similar to those around them.  Here I was, growing up in a place that was so diverse that I figured everywhere else was similar to my situation.  Ironically, this lesson to me was culturally enriching.   I learn that pockets of homogenous existence thrived right here in the place I was attending college.  I gained fist hand experience in living in an environment that suffered from cultural diversity.  However, diversity, as it always has, had sought me out.  After one year of college my best friend was a Japanese-Irish-American named, Koskei Butler, and my Big-brother in my fraternity, Steve Goodfriend, was the only Jew I knew at Villanova.  This situation in college taught me that I have a fond appreciation of diverse people, yet at the same time I was respectful and interested in learning and living with people that had a homogenous upbringing.  I learned that being culturally diverse in my experiences meant not only being surrounded by diversity but not being surrounded by it at the same time. 
The past few years of my life have been spent working in New York City, perhaps the most culturally enriched area of the United States.  In addition, I worked for two and a half years at the international firm of Deloitte & Touch.  At Deloitte & Touch I was the lead auditor of several different audit teams that was comprised of Americans, Jamaicans, Russians, Jews, Africans, Europeans, Japanese, Chinese, Canadians, Argentineans and many more citizens of other countries from around the world.  The one thing that I learned most while working with such a diverse set of coworkers was that respect for who they were was the only way to be. 
In summary, I believe my life has been a broad process of becoming cross-cultural.  From my experiences as a child to my days of working at Deloitte & Touch, respect for others is the best way to encounter people.  No matter who the person is, socially, politically, religiously or ethnically, respect and an open mind for differences in the way I have been brought up and it is the way that serves me best in interacting with life’s diversity.
Hearing this slogan as a child and hearing it as a seasoned professional is as different as night and day.  As a child, I only imagined I would involve myself with something that I truly loved and believed in, especially when it came to my career. However, as a professional, this slogan sounds like wishful thinking.  
When I look back at the way I’ve spent my time over the past six years I realize that the focus of my efforts have been to help others, in one way or another, to accumulate more money.  If I wasn’t consulting a married couple as to whether IBM stock made a nice compliment to there retirement plan, then I was auditing a public corporation and conferring information to the investing public as to the financial condition of the company they were either currently investing in or considering to invest in.  This type of work right out of college was not only challenging but appeared interesting as well.  
Then came a shift in consciousness.  I am twenty seven years old and this is going to be the extent of my worldly contribution for the rest of my life!  All of a sudden my job didn’t seem so tough and the self esteem I once derived from what I was doing seemed to fade.  For months I was confused.  What was it that was making me so unhappy?  I realized that the people I was helping and the end to which I was helping them achieve it, was enabling the rich to get richer.
Questions in my life started to surface.  Questions like how is it that I’ve become involved in working for a living that doesn’t put a warm smile on a young child’s face? How is it that when I wake up in the morning I don’t feel the joy of knowing that I’m headed off to work to make a community in need become more comfortable and livable?  Why is it that I’ve become more concerned with purchasing the latest pair of Nike’s instead of whether I’ve made a contribution to the hungry people of the world?  I asked myself, why have these things become so important in my life and how can this be changed? 
I believe that a stronger purpose in life exists.  I believe that helping disadvantaged people is something that is my own personal obligation not only for the people who require the help but also for helping myself realize my true self.  Experiencing myself in this capacity is my life’s priority.  I am prepared to dedicate two years of my life directly helping needy communities with the talents I’ve acquired through education, work, and most importantly my life’s experiences.  Whether it’s reengineering a factory floor, coordinating after-school activities, teaching English, or planting seeds in a field, I would consider this opportunity my greatest privilege and honor.  In short, I am ready and excited to be involved with “the toughest job I will ever love.”

Reference Letters for US Peace Corps Application:

Reference Letter #1
To:    Peace Corps Placement Unit
           Washington, D.C.
Dear Sir/Madam:
This letter is being written in consideration of the request that I received from Jason T. Schwary to provide an evaluation of his qualifications.  I have known Jason for the last 5 years in the capacity of his supervisor in his career as a Certified Public Accountant.  I have also come to know Jason and his family socially and regard him as more than a co-worker.
This letter attempts to address the following questions in regard to Jason based on my knowledge as his supervisor both at BDO Seidman LLP and Deloitte & Touche LLP and outside of work:
Question:  From your knowledge, please give an example of a significant commitment that the applicant has fulfilled.
Answer:  Jason is a certified public accountant, registered in the state of California.  His commitment to his education, studying for the CPA examination, and ongoing self study and continuing education demonstrate his ongoing commitment to improve himself.  Because of his well developed analytical skills, Jason achieved an ascendancy beyond his contemporaries when he became the youngest team member in the financial services practice at BDO Seidman.
Express your concerns, if any, about the applicant’s ability to fulfill a commitment.

I do not have any concerns to express.  I would add that, when Jason let the partner at BDO Seidman know that he would be moving from Los Angeles to New York (a few years ago), the partner told me that he thought that Jason was one of the smartest young people that he had worked with and he expressed the idea that he thought that Jason would be very successful in his future.
Question: Are you aware of any situations or problems the applicant may be trying to avoid by going overseas as a Peace Corps Volunteer?

Answer:  I am not aware of any situations or problems that Jason may be trying to avoid by going overseas as a Peace Corps Volunteer.  Jason has expressed to me that he did not think that working as a CPA was his final vocation.  I believe that the events of September 11, 2001 have caused Jason to examine his priorities in life and have motivated him to pursue work that he finds more meaningful.
Question:  From your knowledge of the applicant, how well do you think he or she has performed each of the following; provided leadership/supervision, worked under minimal supervision, been a self-starter, worked with limited resources and equipment?
Answer:  Jason has adequately provided leadership/supervision, worked under minimal supervision, and worked with limited resources and equipment.  He has excelled at being a self-starter.

Question:  Please describe how the applicant has demonstrated the above behaviors (in question 4).

Answer:  As described above, Jason was a member of the financial services practice.  In this capacity, it was his responsibility to direct his staff in completing audits and accounting for financial institutions.  Jason was required to train his staff, provide direction and supervision in the direction of his staff’s work, to carry out this function at the client sites with little supervision from his supervisors, and to complete his tasks with the minimal amount of resources.  When Jason assumed the position as an audit senior, he quickly acclimated himself to this multitasking environment.
Question:  Express your concerns, if any, about the applicant’s work-related skills and attitude.

Answer:  None.

Question:  From your knowledge of the applicant, how well do you think that he or she has demonstrated the following in his or her life; changed his or her behavior to accommodate others, responded to the needs of others, adapted to new customs, worked with people of different backgrounds?

Answer:  As an auditor, one is moving from client to client quite regularly, working on up to 25 clients during one year.  In each situation, one must make an immediate assessment of the culture of the organization and the people that one will be working with.  Additionally, the compliment of the audit engagement team changes every engagement.  Jason managed to work well with the clients that he served and with the engagement teams that he was part of.  Many of the clients and people that he worked with in the past have maintained contact with Jason through the years, and so have his work colleagues.  

Question:  Please describe how the applicant has worked with people of different backgrounds.

Answer:  In the accounting profession, one is required to move between different clients and teams on a regular basis.  The make up of the clients and teams is as diverse as you could expect in America.  Jason always demonstrated a sensitivity towards the different backgrounds, portrayed an indifferent level of respect to all people, and appeared to find enjoyment in learning about other people’s cultures and experiences.  
Question:  Express your concerns, if any, about the applicant's ability to work with diverse groups.
Answer:  None.

Question:  From your knowledge of the applicant, how well do you think he or she has demonstrated the ability to; cope with stressful working and living situations, cope with separation from family and friends, develop friends and a support system in an unfamiliar environment.

Answer:  Jason moved to New York a couple of years ago.  When he was considering this move, he shared with me his thoughts that he wanted to have an opportunity to strike out on his own and find his unique opportunity to make a contribution.  (Jason comes from a family of very successful people in their chosen professions)  It appears to me that he has done well in making new friends with his work colleagues and people outside of work while in New York.  
Question:  Please describe how the applicant has handled a difficult situation, requiring any of the above abilities (in question 10).

Answer:  As described in the question above, I believe that Jason has demonstrated this ability in his move to New York from Los Angeles.

Question:  Express your concerns, if any, about the applicant’s emotional maturity.

Answer:  None.

Question:  Please describe notable abilities, interests, skills, or experiences of the applicant relevant to Peace Corps service.

Answer:  CPA’s are required to be, and are known for their ability to bring organization to a situation.  Jason’s work required him to step into an unknown situation, make an assessment of the tasks in front of the team, and then to set out and execute a plan to deliver the final result.  Many times, this required Jason to discover financial and non-financial areas that his clients had not even considered (somewhat like detective work).  Jason’s has developed his analytical and organizational skills through his work in the accounting profession.

Question:  If applicable, please describe any reservations you have about the applicant’s ability to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

Answer:  None. I highly recommend Jason for the Peace Corps.

Reference Letter #2
To:    Peace Corps Placement Unit
            Washington, D.C.
My name is Sabumnim David L. Herbert, president of the Tri-State Chapter World Pro Hapkido Federation and a fifth dan in Hapkido and Tae Kwon Do.  I own and operate the New York Martial Arts Center (NYMAC) in Manhattan, New York where Jason Schwary has been studying Hapkido for the past two years.  During that time I have seen Jason in many different situations that I believe will make him a great candidate for the Peace Corps.
Jason is an “Assistant Instructor” at NYMAC in addition to being a student.  As an Assistant Instructor he is responsible for teaching other students forms and techniques as well as the theoretical and philosophical background to Hapkido.  But what I have noticed that is special about Jason in this area is the way he goes about teaching.  Jason teaches clearly and concisely makes learning for the other students much easier.  I have coached many Assistant Instructors in my life and Jason’s patience and compassion have been among the best I’ve seen.  He always keeps calm, patient and his connection with whom he works appears strong.  In short Jason is a natural leader, while at the same time he is adept in taking direction and executing what he has been taught.  
Beyond Jason’s involvement in the Assistant Instructor program, he also participates in “Ninja Night.”  Ninja Night is a regularly scheduled program where we have young martial artists between five and ten over to the school for a night of training, instruction, dinner, movie and fun.  Jason has been a key contributor in designing and executing the program.  His involvement has been exemplary.  His interaction with the other adults involved in the program as well as his interaction with the children is ideal.  He is gentle and caring with children, in turn who give Jason their respect.  Overall, Jason is giving of himself in a kind, gentle yet enthusiastic way. 
I see Jason as somebody who has a strong desire in life to make a difference, driven by love for life.  Jason is mentally and physically strong, and while the rigors of a Peace Corps assignment may be tough and challenging, I believe Jason is the type of person to handle this with grace, dignity and compassion.  I strongly recommend Jason Schwary as a Peace Corps volunteer.
Should you have any questions at all, please call me at (212) 431-1100.
Very Truly Yours,
________________________        Date: ________
Sabumnim David L. Herbert
New York Martial Arts Center 


So, after waiting for about two months, I received a letter in the mail requesting that I continue the application process with three rounds of interviews. From what I would label, “intense interviewing”, I later received another letter informing me that I had been extended an invitation to join the U.S. Peace Corps in Bolivia. I was elated. I knew I was in for something huge, but to what extent I wasn’t completely aware of. The transformations I had on my horizon were way beyond my wildest imagination.  And to sum it up...It turned out to be “the hardest job I would ever love”.
Thank you Peace Corps, thank you for the opportunity of a lifetime, and thank you to everyone I went through that experience with. But most of all, thank you Bolivia!

Jason Schwary (B-31)
Agricultural Project
August 2002 - January 2005

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