I've been inspired by The Hegemonist to devote some time explicitly to people interested in joining the Peace Corps. I've had these potential PCVs in mind throughout my bloggery, but I want to take some time to address them directly. For the month of February, I'll alternate these posts with more typical ones (for my loyal readers).
So you're thinking about joining the Peace Corps?
Congratulations! That's awesome. :D It deserves your best thinking.
One fun way to learn about the Peace Corps life is to read blogs by Volunteers, like this one. :) You can find them all - or nearly all, anyway - at www.peacecorpsjournals.com. Just pick which region you're interested in, and then which country. Not all blogs are created equal, of course, and while PC does a great job at finding our blogs and posting them there, they're not as diligent about removing them. Under Morocco, for example, there are 131 blogs listed...but many of those Volunteers are already back in the States. So feel free to click around, and don't be discouraged if your first attempts aren't successful. As they say throughout training, our bywords are patience and flexibility.
Or maybe you want some quick facts? There are a bunch available online - like here and here. The numbers constantly change, because new Trainees ship out and Volunteers return (voluntarily or otherwise). As of 9/30/08 - just four months ago - 7,876 Peace Corps Volunteers and Trainees, aka PCVs and PCTs - and get used to the acronyms - were serving in 139 countries. President Obama has spoken warmly of Peace Corps on many occasions, and it seems likely that he will double our size to about 15,000 active volunteers by our 50th anniversary in 2011. Another key fact - we're in our "Host Country" for 27 months altogether: 3 months of training, often referred to as stage, followed by 24 months of service. So if you're looking for something short-term, keep looking. There is some great discussion of this and other issues at So You Wanna Join the Peace Corps?.
Official Peace Corps information sessions are another great resource. They take place all the time, usually on college and university campuses. When I was contemplating this life, I went to a couple of them. They got repetitive in a hurry, so I don't recommend going to several, but going to one is invaluable. You can find one near you here.
One question that came up each time, because it isn't clearly addressed in the official site, was "How much say do I get in where I'm placed?" There's no straightforward answer because the process is individualized. I'll go into more detail on this in the future, but the short answer is that you can - and should - express your preference, but there's no guarantee you'll get it. Peace Corps recruiters do their best to match your skill set with a need for that skill set...and if they need someone who can do what you do in Jamaica, then that's where they'll try to get you to go. Also, you only get to choose a region, not a country. I'd been hoping to go to Jordan, so I requested Middle East/North Africa. I ended up in MENA, all right - but in Morocco. (A blessing in disguise, as it turned out!)
The information sessions and blogs are most useful for clarifying your expectations. "Peace Corps" often conjures up visions of living in a thatched-roof mud house in sub-Saharan Africa, digging wells in dusty villages. Some PCVs still do that, but the focus has shifted to capacity building. When I first heard that, I took a mental step back; it sounds so jargony and ... vague. It turns out that it means helping people learn to help themselves. The "Give a man a fish..." idea. If we want our work to be sustainable - another piece of jargon that means it'll outlast our presence in-country - then the people we're working with need to be able to carry on in our absence. A Volunteer digging a well has made a tangible contribution to her village, but the Volunteer who teaches a local group how to dig wells, and how to write grant requests to buy the materials for wells, will leave behind a village empowered to meet their own needs for water. And that's just one example.
There are various "sectors", or categories of work you could do. The most common sector worldwide, encompassing 35% of active PCVs, is Education, which usually means teaching English classes, but can also mean teacher training or other things. There are no "Education" Volunteers in Morocco, per se, but most of us educate in one way or another. The next four most common sectors are all present here: Health & HIV/AIDS: (21% of PCVs worldwide), Small Business Development (15% worldwide), Environment (15%), and Youth Development (5%). I'll devote a day's blog to each of these.
But while you're thinking, go ahead and take a look at the application. It's incredibly long - 15 or 20 screens, as I recall - so better to start earlier than later. It will take time to compile everything you need, from contact info on all past jobs, to everyplace you've lived in the past ten years, to a comprehensive medical history...it's good to get a jump on it.
The Peace Corps slogan has changed recently, from "The toughest job you'll ever love" to "How far will you go?" They're both valid. In Peace Corps service, you'll be challenged daily, thrilled regularly, and will travel - both in miles and inwardly - farther than you can imagine. So keep thinking about it. Whatever you decide, you'll be glad you considered it.
The Wide-Eyed Innocent's Guide to the Peace Corps Application Process
My Pre-Peace Corps Timeline
My Pre-Peace Corps Timeline, cont.
Other Peace Corps Blogs
So You're Thinking About Joining the Peace Corps?
Joining Peace Corps: Timeline and Application Process
What Comes Next: Your First Nine Months In-Country
The Three Goals of Peace Corps
Leaving Peace Corps Service
The Sectors: Youth Development
The Sectors: Small Business Development
The Sectors: Health
The Sectors: Environment
Top 10 Reasons to Join Peace Corps
Top 5 Reasons to Reconsider Joining Peace Corps
Peace Corps Applicant FAQs
Your Peace Corps Toolkit
Final Thoughts for Applicants
Gender and Development: Int'l Women's Day
Peace Corps Applicant FAQs II
3 months ago