Local man

Scottsdale resident Justin Cohen is one of the first Peace Corps volunteers to return overseas and will spend the next two years volunteering in Colombia. (Special to the Progress)

Scottsdale resident Justin Cohen is due to ride the first wave of Peace Corps volunteers heading overseas since the pandemic began in March 2020.

Back then, the Peace Corps pulled more than 7,000 out of over 60 countries and now it has decided it’s safe for them to return. 

Cohen, who joined the Peace Corps in May, will spend the next two years in Colombia. where he will work as a community economic development “connector.”

“I’ve always been interested in the public service sector and I think that the Peace Corps was just the next step for the things that I’ve previously done,” Cohen said. 

Cohen graduated from Horizon High School in 2016 and then headed to Emory University to pursue a career as a paralegal.

He spent his time between his studies working with a student government group, interning for the ACLU and the Georgia House Democratic Caucus. 

But after landing a job as a paralegal with a firm in New York and working in that position for over two years, Cohen felt moved to volunteer with the Peace Corps. 

While he admits some apprehension about moving to a new country and facing a lot of uncertainty, Cohen said he also is excited about the venture.

“Working in an unstructured and kind of ambiguous environment might be more challenging, but we’re given goals and we’re given the tools to achieve those goals,” he said.

“And at the end of the day, we’re the ones that have to try to figure out how to best incorporate that into the community that we’re a part of. But I’m excited for sure and I’m sure those nerves will go away once I become more familiar with my daily life in Colombia.” 

Before heading off to Colombia, Cohen hopped on a plane to Washington D.C. to meet other Peace Corps volunteers and members of his cohort before flying off to Colombia. 

He said he could either end up volunteering in the Andean region of the country or near the Caribbean coast. 

However, he added that once he lands in Colombia, his first three months will be spent in “pre-service training,” honing his Spanish, familiarizing himself with Colombian customs and norms and learning Peace Corps internal operations and how to interact with community economic developers. 

Upon completion of the training, Cohen will be formally sworn in and get to work in working with economic and social government staff, women and youth groups.

He also will engage with the Colombian Ministry of Education and work closely with other nonprofit organizations and government agencies. 

Overall, Cohen is optimistic about his excursion overseas to promote peace among the community. 

“The Peace Corps doesn’t just send volunteers to places that they’re not welcomed,” he said. “The Colombian Government has worked with the United States on this and, as far as the Peace Corps is concerned, I think they’re just looking for places where they view a need can be met and where our services can be of value. 

Following his two years of service, Cohen plans to attend law school and continue his work in the government and nonprofit sectors, but in the meantime he is excited to learn more about Colombian culture and act as a liaison between the United States and Colombia. 

“I hope to learn more about Colombian culture to learn more Spanish and work on my Spanish,” he said. “And then I hope to improve some of the conditions in Colombia and I hope to be able to act more as a liaison between some people in Colombia.” 

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