Volunteers for Peace Corps going overseas for the first time since pandemic

The first time Wilhelm Potgieter experienced a new culture was when he moved with his family from South Africa to Minnesota when he was seven.

But next month, he'll begin his next adventure when he leaves for Kosovo to volunteer with the Peace Corps for two years.

"I really like the idea of being able to travel and help outside of the United States. I thrive on challenges, on having things challenge me, so this is something that I am looking forward to," said Potgieter.

Potgieter will be one of the first volunteers to head back overseas since the pandemic forced the Peace Corps to evacuate nearly 7,000 volunteers from more than 60 countries in March of 2020. Agency officials say they had to make sure their people could get back to the U.S. at a time when some countries were closing their borders to stop the spread of COVID-19.

"There were a lot of tears shed but ultimately everyone understood that at the time, it was the best decision we could have made," said Peace Corps senior recruiter Julee Muro De Gerome.

Agency officials say volunteers started returning overseas back in February and the Peace Corps is currently recruiting people to serve in 48 countries around the world. They have to be fully vaccinated and receive special training on ways to stay safe from contracting or spreading the coronavirus.

"We are so excited. Some of these volunteers who are leaving may have applied two or three years ago. They have been waiting. The communities that are awaiting them have been anxious and excited to get them back," said Muro De Gerome.

Potgieter will teach English to children in Kosovo.

Even though his trip was postponed for a couple of years, he is eager to immerse himself in another culture and make a difference halfway around the world.

"Being able to see how others live brings a greater understanding and makes you a better person," said Potgieter.