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Sisters Join Peace Corps

Devescovi daughters leave for West Africa and Madagascar.

Leesburg resident Tiziano Devescovi would rather not lose his two best friends for two years.

Tiziano had to say good-bye to his older sister Valentina, 25, who left for Benin, West Africa on June 4. He has one week left before he sees Michela, 23, leave for Madagascar, an island off the southeast coast of Africa.

"We're a tight family," said Tiziano Devescovi, who is a year apart in age from both of his sisters and a 1997 graduate of Loudoun County High School. "It's something they should do because they will have a lot to offer, and I'm very proud of them for that. But they better come back safe."

Valentina and Michela Devescovi joined the Peace Corps, separately coming to the decision while they were in college, at first not knowing of each other's interest.

"To have a family that is so supportive and committed to doing overseas service is a standout. This is a real example of a family supporting the Peace Corps," said Sara Johnston, public affairs specialist for the mid-Atlantic region for the Peace Corps, adding, "Two sisters going off simultaneously is pretty phenomenal."

VALENTINA Devescovi, a 1995 Loudoun County High School graduate, made the decision following a layoff from her first job out of college. In 2001, she earned a master's degree in Spanish literature from the University of Florida, then worked at Reston-based Sonics Systems for one year until she lost her job due to the business closing. She looked for a job in the education and customer service fields for three months, then decided to apply for the Peace Corps, something she had thought about during her college years. "It's more of a jump-start for me," she said.

Michela Devescovi, a 1998 high school graduate, wanted to serve in the Peace Corps between her undergraduate studies in French, Spanish and communications and her graduate work in education and English as a Second Language. At the urging of her parents Daniel and Ivana Devescovi, she agreed to wait until she completed her master's degree at George Mason University. However, she found the first year of school to be "boring," so she, like her sister, applied for the Peace Corps to help her decide about possibly studying international relations.

"We've traveled a lot all of our lives," said Valentina Devescovi about growing up in a military family originally from Italy, where she was born. Michela Devescovi was born in Mississippi following a Navy transfer. "We like the adventure, anything that's new. ... It's a big chance, a big deal to do this."

THE FAMILY lived in Italy, Mississippi, California, the Philippines and England before their father Daniel Devescovi retired from the Navy. At that point, they attended public schools in Italy and moved to the United States in the summer of 1994, choosing Leesburg as their home where they have lived since.

"We love languages and people. We find it easy to insert ourselves and become part of a culture," Michela Devescovi said, adding that as Peace Corps volunteers they will have to do the same thing.

Michela and Valentina Devescovi, who both have an interest in education, plan to serve for two years as Teaching English as a Foreign Language teachers at the secondary school level, along with providing teacher training, working with women's groups to encourage social participation, initiating community building projects and activities, and doing whatever else is assigned to them.

"You think you're going in there to help people, but in the end they're the ones who are helping you. They are the ones making a difference in you," said Johnston, who previously served in the Peace Corps as a volunteer. "It's such a huge part of your life. It really opens up your world and your ideas. It makes you more aware of living in someone else's shoes."

BEFORE THEY will be assigned, Valentina and Michela Devescovi and the other volunteers will have to undergo three months of job training, cultural and history education, and the learning of two foreign languages. Valentina Devescovi already speaks Italian, Spanish and some French, and Michela Devescovi speaks Italian, Spanish and French.

"It's going to be a life-changing experience. We're going to be completely different when we come back," Michela Devescovi said. "It's also the adventure of being abroad and disconnected from technology ... no electricity or running water. ... There's going to be a lot of culture shock, but that's the fun part."

The Devescovis plan to visit each other and to return to the United States once during their Peace Corps mission. Their parents also are making plans to see both of them.

"I spent 20 years in the Navy. I know what it means to be away from family," Daniel said. "They are going to go away from the protective umbrella. That's something that concerns us very much."

At the same time, Daniel and Ivana Devescovi will miss their daughters, he said. "The biggest emotion I feel is pride in what they're doing," he said.

"It's unbelievable to me," Valentina Devescovi said four days before she left. "I won't be able to see my family for awhile. I have to write letters."