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ASU Peace Corps Week gives students opportunity to apply.
ASU Peace Corps recruiter says there's no age limit — one volunteer is 87.
February 14, 2017

International experiences include eating interesting foods, doing interesting things — and getting married

Meditating at a waterfall. Bucket baths. Eating ant eggs. 

For Peace Corps Week at Arizona State University, former volunteers recalled their most memorable experiences abroad in a pair of videos for ASU Now.

Their stories will contribute to a series of events across ASU’s Downtown, Polytechnic, West and Tempe campuses that will help interested students, faculty and staff learn about the application process, work programs and the daily life of a volunteer. 

“I’m happy to meet with students, discuss their skills and interests, and answer questions,” ASU Peace Corps recruiter Breanne Lott said, explaining that a new application system allows perspective volunteers to apply for specific countries. 

Lott, 27, points out that there’s no age limit for volunteering and that in some cases short-term assignments are available. She finished her service in 2014, and there’s no question about her best experience. “I married an Ethiopian.”

“Our wedding was Ethiopian style,” she added, saying “it turned into a giant community gathering. We had a whole goat roasted and flaming papayas for decoration.”

Jessica Hirshorn, a College of Integrated Sciences and the Arts senior lecturer who teaches a Peace Corps course each fall, served in the early ’90s. She talked about bucket baths and said her favorite spot in the world remains a small waterfall near her home in Micronesia where she would meditate in solitude. After 23 years, she’s planning a trip back.

“Thanks to the advent of Facebook, I’m in touch with everybody in my community,” Hirshorn said. After uploading a few photos, it seemed almost like “the entire island ended up Facebook friending me.”

Notable Peace Corps volunteers include Lillian Carter, mother of ex-President Jimmy Carter; Netflix founder and CEO Reed Hastings; novelist Paul Theroux and handyman Bob Vila.

The current class of volunteers includes 87-year-old Alice Carter, serving in Morocco.

President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps by executive order more than 50 years ago to pair U.S. civilians — along with their education and skills — with underdeveloped nations that asked for assistance.

The first volunteers served in Ghana and Tanganyika, modern day Tanzania. Programs later opened in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East.

Host countries must invite the Peace Corps and receive security clearance.

National Peace Corps Week starts Feb. 26. ASU organizers said the university is getting an early start to avoid conflict with the academic calendar.

Over 200,000 volunteers have served in 193 countries and as of last year more than 1,000 had been ASU alums.

Part of the experience is taking in local culture. Michael Sieng, a doctoral student in the School of Sustainability, remembers eating red ant eggs in Thailand, "it's actually really expensive, and so I was only able to eat a little bit — which was fine because it had a kind of interesting taste to it."  

Deanna Dent

Photographer , ASU Now

480-727-5972

 
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February 14, 2017

ASU study takes aim at the psychological effects of population density and finds a ‘slow life strategy’ prevails

Big cities with lots of people usually garner images of a fast-paced life, where the hustle and bustle of the city is met, and at least tolerated, by those who live there. They live for the “rush” of city life, and all of the competition that lies therein.

But a new study by Arizona State University shows the opposite may be true — that one psychological effect of population density is for those people to adopt a “slow life strategy.” This strategy focuses more on planning for the long-term future and includes tactics like preferring long-term romantic relationships, having fewer children and investing more in education.

The study, “The crowded life is a slow life: Population density and life history strategy,” was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Its findings provide novel insights into how population density affects human psychology, and it has implications for thinking about population growth, environmental influences on social behavior, and human cultural diversity.

“Our findings are contrary to the notion that crowded places are chaotic and socially problematic,” said Oliver Sng, who led the research while a doctoral student at ASU and who now is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Michigan. “People who live in dense places seem to plan for the future more, prefer long-term romantic relationships, get married later in life, have fewer children and invest a lot in each child. They generally adopt an approach to life that values quality over quantity.” 

Sng, with ASU Foundation Professor Steven Neuberg and ASU psychology professors Douglas Kenrick and Michael Varnum, used data from nations around the world and the 50 U.S. states to show that population density naturally correlates with these slow life strategies. Then, in a series of experiments (e.g., in which people read about increasing crowdedness or heard sounds of a crowded environment), they found that perceptions of crowdedness cause people to delay gratification and prefer slower, more long-term mating and parenting behaviors.    

Why? Using evolutionary life history theory, Neuberg notes that different strategies are useful in different kinds of environments.

“In environments where population density is low and there is thus relatively little competition for available resources, there are few costs but lots of advantages to adopting a ‘fast’ strategy,” he suggested. “On the other hand, when the environment gets crowded, individuals have to compete vigorously with others for the available resources and territory.

“To be successful in this competition, they need to invest more in building up their own abilities, which tends to delay having children,” he added. “Because this greater social competition also affects their kids, they tend to focus more of their time and energy on enhancing their abilities and competitiveness. So a slow strategy — in which one focuses more on the future and invests in quality over quantity — tends to enhance the reproductive success of individuals in high density environments.”

Population-density researchers

(From left) ASU Foundation Professor Steven Neuberg, former ASU graduate student Oliver Sng and ASU psychology professors Douglas Kenrick and Michael Varnum authored a new study that shows people who live in population dense area adopt a "slow life" strategy that values quality over quantity.

 

Will higher densities always lead to this slow strategy? “Not at all,” said Sng. “In fact, when high densities are paired with unpredictable death or disease, the theory predicts that people will become more present-focused and opportunistic.”

Sng added that the “slow life strategy, when brought to its extremes, also has its own pitfalls. Consider, for example, the preschool craze in dense places like New York City, where parents are obsessed with getting their children into the best preschools. There are similar phenomenon emerging in dense countries like Japan and Singapore.”

“With the world’s population growing,” Neuberg added, “it seems more important than ever to understand the psychological effects of overcrowding and how living in crowded environments might influence people’s behaviors. Applying a new perspective to an old question is allowing us to reexamine the effects of living in crowded environments.”

The research was partially supported by the Arizona State University Foundation for a New American University. 

 

Top photo by Matthew Woodhams

Associate Director , Media Relations & Strategic Communications

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