ANDOVER — David Lewis was looking for adventure when he joined the Peace Corps in 1977.
"I absolutely found it," said Lewis, of Andover, who volunteered as a small business consultant in El Salvador.
"I learned another language, culture and met wonderful people. The experience gave me another view of the world."
Lewis, management professor at University of Massachusetts Lowell, was one of 20 former Peace Corps volunteers who met last night to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the organization.
Kay Frishman, who served in Uruguay from 1965 to 1967, hosted the pot luck supper at her Andover home.
"Thank you Peace Corps for changing our lives," Frishman said during a toast.
"I was an idealistic young woman and the Peace Corps fit into what I wanted to do," said Frishman, who is retiring as executive director of Family Services after 30 years.
The Peace Corps volunteer program was established by President John F. Kennedy's executive order in 1961, with a three-part mission of providing technical assistance, helping people outside the United States understand American culture, and helping Americans understand other cultures.
Since 1961, more than 200,000 Americans have joined the Peace Corps and have served in 139 countries. Volunteers serve 24 months abroad after three months of training, typically working in social and economic development.
Former Peace Corps volunteers from Lawrence, Andover, North Andover, West Newbury and Amesbury attended and shared their stories of living in far away places like the Marshall Islands, Tonga, Ghana, Brazil, the Philippines and El Salvador.
Some, like Kathy and Jason Pryde of Andover, wore traditional attire from Malawi. David Hildt of Amesbury brought feijao tropeiro, a side dish from Brazil made with red beans, bacon, garlic, bay leaf and peppers. Others, like Bila Kolbe, brought lu, a spinach, coconut milk and seafood dish from Tonga, where he served.
Kolbe, a Spanish teacher at Andover High School, wore a necklace made out of shark cartilage from Tonga, a 176-island archipelago in the South Pacific Ocean, and a Decapitado from El Salvador.