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Letter From Abroad

Letter From AbroadTrent Ruder – one of 31 Tufts graduates volunteering in the Peace Corps this year – says that ‘real development comes from within.’ Alba Iulia, Romania.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [02.02.04] Trent Ruder is far from home. One of the dozens of Tufts graduates who chose to volunteer for the Peace Corps after graduation, he is spending his days in Eastern Europe working with children and the elderly. Although he is one of many Tufts alumni in the Peace Corps - making Tufts one of the top suppliers of volunteers in the nation- Ruder is finding that his experiences this year in Romania are nothing short of personal and unique.

"I cannot really convey to you how much I want to have [Romania's ] story told and understood," Ruder told The Vail Trail. "Or how much I feel we, as Americans, can gain from understanding life here or in developing countries in general. Romania is not just Dracula, nor gypsies, nor orphans - it is a place that deserves to be known and seen on its own. And the same goes for the Peace Corps experience."

The recent Tufts graduate - who has already spent more than 11 months serving in Alba Iulia, Romania's capital city with a population of about 75,000 - said that he still has much to learn about the country.

"Romania is full of paradoxes," Ruder told the Trail. "Months after living here I am still often baffled at where its core lies; what this country is about, what it loves, what it hates, and what it wants to be. Isn't it hard to have a clear notion when you yourself are full of dualities, though? I stopped trying to distill and simplify a long time ago; now I observe and combined and synthesize. Answers are complicated."

Although Romania is comparatively modern to many of the places in which Peace Corps volunteers engage in their work, the Tufts graduate said that an industrial lifestyle has not saved the people of the country from many of the hardships felt in less developed nations.

"Daily, I pass people on the street begging for food. A hard life is worn on the face and in the hands, and I see it every day," Ruder told the Trail. "It does not work to pity those who are struggling, but rather to see them, try to understand them and what they are going through and to help let that motivate me through tough periods."

The Tufts graduate is working with orphaned and abandoned children, helping elderly and handicapped citizens, and aiding the growth of the politically active Student's League.

Along with the work he has been doing, Ruder is also reflecting upon the state of development programs in general. "By coming here under the guise of development - which is to say helping this country - I realized there is a small trick in this generous offer, in that it presumes I and my homeland know better that what is done here," he told the Trail. "To be honest, many times this is true, but others it is not."

The Tufts graduate told the newspaper that the Peace Corps program is taking the right approach - one which encourages both social and personal change.

"The Peace Corps' combination of development work with cultural exchange is the correct formula," Ruder told the Trail. "In the end, real development comes from within, within a country or within a person."

As the Tufts graduate told the Trail, "The closer I have become to people I live and work with the more we are really able to make a meaningful difference in each other's lives. I can only strive to be a bit of a spark for such development, and feel very fortunate and comfortable in the knowledge of those in my life here who provide me with that same spark for myself.

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